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Who Will Feed China? 

Other Norton/Worldwatch Books 

Lester R. Brown et al. 
State of the World 1984 
State of the World 1985 
State of the World 1986 
State of the World 1987 
State of the World 1988 
State of the World 1989 
State of the World 1990 
State of the World 1991 
State of the World 1992 
State of the World 1993 
State of the World 1994 
State of the World 1995 

Vital Signs 1992 

Vital Signs 1993 

Vital Signs 1994 

Vital Signs 1995 

Environmental Alert Series 

Lester R. Brown et al. 
Saving the Planet 

How Much Is Enough? 

Sandra Postel 
Last Oasis 

Lester R. Brown 
Hal Kane 
Full House 

Christopher Flavin 

Nicholas Lenssen 

Power Surge 


Wake-Up Call for a Small Planet 
Lester R. Brown 

The Worldzvatch Environmental Alert Series 
Linda Starke, Series Editor 






Editor's Note 




1. Overview: The Wake-Up Call 


I. China: Taking Inventory 


2. Another Half-Billion 


3. Moving Up the Food Chain 


4. The Shrinking Cropland Base 


5 Contents 

5. Spreading Water Scarcity 66 

6. Raising Cropland Productivity 75 

II. The Shifting World Grain Balance 87 

7. The Growing Grain Deficit 89 

8. Competition for Grain 102 

III. Facing Scarcity 119 

9. Entering a New Era 


10. Priorities in an Era of Scarcity 







At the outset, I particularly want to note the contribu- 
tion of my executive assistant, Reah Janise Kauffman, 
who helped produce one draft after another in rapid suc- 
cession. Her enthusiasm for the project was a constant 
source of support. 

Our series editor, Linda Starke, who also edits our 
two annual books — State of the World and Vital Signs — 
helped get rid of some of the repetition in early drafts, 
sharpened the thinking, and clarified the writing. She 
made a demanding schedule seem easy. At W.W. Nor- 
ton, Iva Ashner and Andrew Marasia made such a 
schedule possible. 

Elena Wilken helped with the research for the book. 
She was especially helpful in compiling and analyzing 
the data used in the analysis, only a small part of which 
actually appears in the book itself. Coming down the 

8 Acknowledgments 

homestretch, Anjali Acharya helped with the final re- 
view and last minute fact-checking. 

Several of my colleagues read the manuscript in vari- 
ous stages and made helpful comments. Among them 
are Derek Denniston, Sandra Postel, David Roodman, 
and Aaron Sachs. Each gave me suggestions that helped 
shape the final product. 

Reviewers from outside the Institute included Dana 
Dalrymple, agriculture specialist with the Agency for In- 
ternational Development (AID). In reviewing this man- 
uscript and providing detailed suggestions, Dana main- 
tained a tradition of providing helpful commentary on 
my manuscripts that began nearly 30 years ago. Laurie 
Burnham, former editor with Scientific American and 
now editor of Shearwater books, a division of Island 
Press, made several useful suggestions in dealing with 
some of the broad questions raised by the analysis. Carl 
Haub of the Population Reference Bureau provided his 
usual useful review of population numbers. Paul Haw- 
kins, business leader and environmentalist, interrupted 
a busy schedule to provide quick feedback. 

In doing this analysis, I drew heavily on the world 
agriculture database from the U.S. Department of Agri- 
culture (USDA). It is invaluable, as are the reports of 
the veteran team of China analysts at the department, 
including W. Hunter Colby, Frederick W. Crook, and 
Francis C. Tuan. 

Funding for this book was provided by the Curtis and 
Edith Munson Foundation. We are also indebted to the 
Wallace Genetic Foundation, which provided financial 
support for Full House: Reassessing the Earth's Population 
Carrying Capacity ', the book that spawned this project. 
The foundation's three trustees — Robert B. Wallace, 
Jean Wallace Douglas, and Henry B. Wallace — all have 
a long-standing interest in food and population. Others 

Acknowledgments 9 

that support the Institute's work include the Nathan 
Cummings, Geraldine R. Dodge, Ford, W. Alton Jones, 
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur, Andrew W. Mel- 
lon, Edward John Noble, Surdna, Turner, and Weeden 
foundations; the Pew Memorial Trust; and the Prickett, 
Rockefeller Brothers, and the United Nations Popula- 
tion funds. 

A final debt of long standing that I would like to ac- 
knowledge is to the USDA management team that was 
so helpful to me early in my career. When I joined the 
Department's Foreign Agricultural Service on June 1, 
1 959, 1 had the great fortune to work in the Far East and 
South Asia branch of the Regional Analysis Division, 
which was headed by Quentin West. Quentin never gave 
me the feeling that the system was putting any limits on 
what I could do; the only limits were those imposed by 
my own intellect and energy level. 

In the years since, most of them spent in manage- 
ment, I have tried to create a similar environment for my 
own colleagues. To the extent that I have been success- 
ful in creating an environment where young people 
could unfold at Worldwatch, it is due in no small part to 
the early influence of Quentin West. 

Division director Wilhelm Anderson set the quality 
standard for our research, both initially in the Foreign 
Agricultural Service and later when the division was 
transferred to the Economic Research Service (ERS) at 
the beginning of the Kennedy administration. At the 
helm of ERS was Nathan Koffsky, also a talented ad- 
ministrator, whom I was privileged to work with as spe- 
cial assistant before moving to the Secretary's office. As 
a member of Secretary Orville Freeman's Staff Econo- 
mist Group, I worked closely with John Schnittker, 
Under-Secretary, and developed an appreciation for his 
incisive thinking. 

1 Acknowledgments 

Helping to guide me in those early years was Joe Rob- 
ertson, Assistant Secretary for Administration. It was 
largely because of him that I went from an entry level 
GS-7 position in 1959 to Administrator in 1966 of the 
International Agricultural Development Service, man- 
aging technical assistance programs in some 40 coun- 
tries. Joe's goal always was to challenge employees to do 
more than they thought they were capable of. This, too, 
has been integrated into my own management philoso- 

And during these years, I got to know Secretary Or- 
ville Freeman, as both a professional colleague and a 
friend. This close friendship and working relationship 
has continued until today, with Freeman serving as 
chairman of the Worldwatch Institute Board of Direc- 
tors throughout its entire 20 years. 

The other person from whom I learned about leader- 
ship and commitment was the late James P. Grant. After 
working together to introduce the Green Revolution in 
Turkey, where Jim was the AID mission director, I ac- 
cepted Jim's invitation to help him start the Overseas 
Development Council. From Jim, who later went on to 
provide UNICEF with some 16 years of spectacular 
leadership, I learned a great deal about how things 
worked in the nonprofit sector. It was the beginning of 
26 rewarding years spent on Massachusetts Avenue's 
"think tank row." 

Lester R. Brown 

Worldwatch Institute 

1776 Massachusetts Ave., N.W. 

Washington, D.C. 20036 

June 1995 

Editor's Note 

This is the sixth book in the Environmental Alert Series, 
and the first to deal with a single country. But as Lester 
Brown points out here, China is such a large nation — in 
terms of both population and economy — that its suc- 
cesses and failures affect us all. As he notes in Chapter 1, 
in an integrated world economy, rising food prices in 
China will translate into rising food prices everywhere. 
Land scarcity there will become everyone's land scar- 
city. And water scarcity in China will affect the entire 

Who Will Feed China? does not aim to point a finger at 
just one country and say future world security rests on 
decisions taken there. Rather, the goal of looking at 
China's food prospects for the next several decades is to 
highlight the unsustainability of most national economic 

1 2 Editor's Note 

and population trends. And to provide a "wake-up call" 
for political leaders and the public alike so that we can 
address these issues before the worst-case scenario 
comes to pass. 

One of the more interesting points Lester raises is the 
impact of the 1959-61 famine in China on the national 
psyche and the strategic thinking of political leaders 
there. The deaths of 30 million Chinese, and in such a 
short time, understandably affected public thinking 
about food security. But that memory — and the fear it 
gives rise to concerning a dependence on outsiders for 
food — should not be allowed to cloud leaders' percep- 
tion of the reality facing China today. As the nation con- 
tinues to industrialize, it will need to import grain to 
meet rising consumer expectations and the needs of 
growing numbers. By the same token, leaders outside 
China need to face the reality of how this could affect 
food prices in their countries. 

Since 1991, the Environmental Alert Series has dealt 
with environmentally sustainable economic develop- 
ment, consumerism and the search for sufficiency in our 
life-styles, water scarcity and the need to invest in effi- 
ciency in that sector, pressure on food production sys- 
tems worldwide, and the coming energy revolution. 
(See list of titles on page 2.) We see these short volumes 
on specific topics as complementing the Institute's two 
annual volumes, State of the World and Vital Signs, and 
hope that you find them useful in your own efforts to 
build a sustainable world. 

Linda Starke > Series Editor 


My concern with China's long-term food prospect first 
arose in 1 988 while I was reading the World Grain Data- 
base prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 
This remarkably useful resource contains the area, yield, 
and production of each grain in every country from 
1950 forward. I may have been one of the few readers to 
notice that if countries become densely populated 
before they industrialize, they inevitably suffer a heavy 
loss of cropland. 

If industrialization is rapid, the loss of cropland 
quickly overrides the rise in land productivity, leading to 
a decline in grain production. The same industrializa- 
tion that shrinks the cropland area also raises income, 
and with it the consumption of livestock products and 
the demand for grain. Ironically, the faster industrializa- 

1 4 Foreword 

tion proceeds, the more rapidly the gap widens between 
rising demand and falling production. 

Before China, only three countries — Japan, South 
Korea, and Taiwan — were densely populated before 
they industrialized. Within 30 years or so, each had gone 
from being largely self-sufficient in grain to importing 
most of their supplies. In 1994, Japan imported 72 per- 
cent of the grain it consumed, for South Korea the figure 
was 66 percent, and for Taiwan, 76 percent. In none of 
these countries was a heavy dependence on imports a 
conscious policy goal. Rather, it was the consequence — 
the inevitable consequence — of industrialization in a sit- 
uation of land scarcity. 

In Worldwatch Paper 85, The Changing World Food 
Prospect: The Nineties and Beyond, published in 1988, I 
looked at the food situation in these three countries, 
noting the trends common to each of them. Seeing the 
remarkable consistency in their experiences and recog- 
nizing what this meant for China, I sent a copy of the 
study to lin Zi Xin, head of the Institute for Science and 
Technology Information for China and a personal 
friend, to alert the leaders there to the potential for enor- 
mous growth in dependence on imported grain. 

It was not until 1994, when working with my col- 
league Hal Kane on Full House: Reassessing the Earth's 
Population Carrying Capacity, that I turned again to 
China's food situation. Since the pace of industrializa- 
tion there had accelerated, fueled by one of the world's 
highest savings rates and record foreign investment, I 
felt it useful to oudine again what this would mean to 
China's food balance. 

To do this, I wrote an article for World Watch, the 
Institute's magazine, looking at what rapid industrializa- 
tion would mean for China's food balance and for the 

Foreword 1 5 

world if China followed the path of its three smaller 
neighbors, eventually importing most of its grain. Enti- 
tled "Who Will Feed China?" the article attracted more 
attention than anything I have ever written. In addition 
to appearing in the five language editions of our maga- 
zine — Japanese, Chinese, German, Italian, and En- 
glish — it also appeared in many of the world's major 
newspapers, such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles 
Times, and International Herald Tribune. It was syn- 
dicated internationally by both the Los Angeles Times 
and the New York Times. Among the major news organi- 
zations covering the analysis were the Associated Press, 
Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal, including the Asian 

We released the article at a briefing in Washington, 
D.C., for the international press corps on Wednesday, 
August 24, 1994. The following Monday, the Ministry 
of Agriculture in Beijing held a press conference in 
which Deputy Minister Wan Baorui announced the 
Ministry's official disagreement with the analysis. He 
said that by 2025 they would nearly double their grain 
production, and thus would have no trouble satisfying 
their growing food needs. In fact, he said, the only grain 
they might import would be in the form of new seeds. 
Almost immediately, reporters were back to me asking 
for a reaction to the statement in Beijing. 

Following my response, things quieted down uitfil 
early in November when I was in Tokyo to receive the 
Blue Planet Prize, an annual award given by the Asahi 
Glass Foundation of Japan for environmental leader- 
ship. I was interviewed there by Reuters correspondent 
Eiichiro Tokumoto, who wanted me to elaborate on the 
China analysis. His story, carried on the Reuters world 
wire, was picked up in China. 

1 6 Foreword 

Shortly thereafter an article appeared in the China 
Daily written by Hu An'gang, a research fellow with the 
Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Dismissing my 
analysis as unbelievable and unscientific, he likened it to 
a prediction by Secretary of State Dean Acheson some 
45 years ago, who said that China would have great 
trouble feeding its 500 million people. Hu then pointed 
quite proudly, and correctly, to the dramatic gains made 
in grain production since the birth of modern China in 
1949. He accepted my projection of the growth in grain 
demand in the decades ahead as incomes climbed, but 
rejected those for grain production. His main point was 
that China had an enormous remaining potential for ex- 
panding its food production that I was underestimating. 

In early February 1995, I was in Oslo, Norway, to 
address an international conference of environment 
ministers hosted by Prime Minister Gro Harlem 
Brundtland. The theme of the conference was sustaina- 
ble development. In my presentation, I sketched out a 
framework for sustainable development and illustrated 
some of the global dilemmas that lay ahead on the food 
front by outlining China's food prospect. I described 
China's likely emergence as a massive importer of food 
as "a wake-up call" that would force governments ev- 
erywhere to address long-neglected issues, such as the 
need to stabilize population, to invest much more heav- 
ily in agriculture, and to redefine security in terms of 
food scarcity rather than military aggression. 

Following the presentation, which was well received, I 
had to leave after the coffee break for the airport. Later I 
learned that when the session reconvened, the Chinese 
ambassador to Norway, Xie Zhenhua, asked for the 
floor even though he was not a scheduled speaker. He 
claimed that my analysis was off-base and misleading. 

Foreword 1 7 

According to the Times ofIndia> one of the papers cover- 
ing my presentation and the ambassador's response, he 
said: "We are giving priority to agricultural productivity. 
Our family planning program has been very successful. 
Science and technology and economic growth will see us 
through." In concluding, he repeated my question 
"Who will feed China?" and solemnly replied that "the 
Chinese people will feed themselves." The following 
day, Ambassador Xie held a news conference, pointing 
out "unequivocally that China does not want to rely on 
others to feed its people and that it relies on itself to 
solve its own problems." 

Although I was aware that the Chinese were sensitive 
to the notion that they might need to import large 
amounts of grain, I had not realized just how sensitive 
the issue is. All the leaders of China today are survivors 
of the massive famine that occurred in 1959-61 in the 
aftermath of the Great Leap Forward — a famine that 
claimed a staggering 30 million lives. If this many died, 
then as many as a couple hundred million more people 
could have been on the edge of starvation. 

The national psyche of China clearly has been af- 
fected by this devastating famine. The prospect of de- 
pending on the outside world for a substantial share of 
the food supply is both psychologically difficult to ac- 
cept and politically anathema. Those who are in leader- 
ship positions today are obviously reluctant to accept 
the notion that they are on a path heading toward heavy 
dependence on food from abroad. It is easy to sympa- 
thize with their concern. 

Ironically, during the time when my indirect dialogue 
with Chinese officialdom was taking place, the food situ- 
ation was tightening within China. A 60-percent rise in 
grain prices during 1994 led the government to buy 

1 8 Foreword 

from abroad a record 6 million tons of grain during one 
month at the end of that year, mostly from the United 
States, as it tried to check the price rise. 

In late February and March of 1995, the tone of re- 
ports coming out of China began to change. On Febru- 
ary 28, a Reuters story referred to the "sounding of 
alarm bells" by Communist Party chief and President 
Jiang Zemin and by Premier li Peng about the state of 
China's agriculture. Premier Li talked about 1995 being 
"significant for the increase of grain and cotton output, 
and the task is a very hard one." President Jiang 
"warned that lagging agricultural growth could spawn 
problems that would threaten inflation, stability, and 
national economic development." He indicated that 
some developed coastal areas where industrialization 
was particularly rapid had suffered a precipitous drop in 
the amount of acreage under cultivation, saying that this 
is "a trend which must be reversed . . . this year." 

At the National People's Congress meeting in mid- 
March, officials acknowledged, "China is facing a loom- 
ing grain crisis, with a hike in imports the only apparent 
solution to the demands of a growing population on a 
shrinking farmland." Experts cited "a series of vicious 
circles that threatened to lock grain production into a 
downward spiral." Extensive consideration of the food 
issue at the Congress suggests that it is now becoming a 
matter of concern within official circles. 

In early May 1995, 1 was invited to a dinner in Wash- 
ington with Cheng Xu, Director of Science and Tech- 
nology in China's Ministry of Agriculture. He shared 
with me a folder containing a photocopy of my article in 
the English edition of World Watch and a stack of re- 
sponses to it, mostly in Chinese. Cheng said that the 
principal contribution of my article had been to focus 

Foreword 1 9 

the attention of China's leaders on agriculture, a sector 
they had neglected in their breakneck effort to industri- 
alize. Whether China's political leaders are now ready to 
discuss publicly the dimensions of their likely future de- 
pendence on the outside world for food remains to be 

I wanted to write this book to document as carefully 
and clearly as possible what may lie ahead as this coun- 
try of 1.2 billion people continues on its path of rapid 
industrialization. My aim is not to discourage China 
from moving in this direction, but rather to help us all to 
understand the consequences for China and the world 
of its doing so. The purpose of the book is not to blame 
China for the problems that are likely to arise from its 
projected emergence as a massive grain importer, but 
simply to recognize that this will force political leaders 
everywhere to recognize that the world is now on a de- 
mographic and economic path that is environmentally 

Lester R. Brown 

Who Will Feed China? 

The Wake-Up Call 

We often hear that the entire world cannot reasonably 
aspire to the U.S. standard of living or that we cannot 
keep adding 90 million people a year indefinitely. Most 
people accept these propositions. Intuitively, they real- 
ize that there are constraints, that expanding human de- 
mand will eventually collide with the earth's natural lim- 

Yet, little is said about what will actually limit the 
growth in human demands. Increasingly, it looks as 
though our ability to expand food production fast 
enough will be one of the earlier constraints to emerge. 
This is most immediately evident with oceanic fisheries, 
nearly all of which are being pushed to the limit and 
beyond by human demand. Water scarcity is now hold- 
ing back growth in food production on every continent. 


Agronomic limits on the capacity of available crop varie- 
ties to use additional fertilizer effectively are also slowing 
growth in food production. 

Against this backdrop, China may soon emerge as an 
importer of massive quantities of grain — quantities so 
large that they could trigger unprecedented rises in 
world food prices. If it does, everyone will feel the effect, 
whether at supermarket checkout counters or in village 
markets. Price rises, already under way for seafood, will 
spread to rice, where production is constrained by the 
scarcity of water as well as land, and then to wheat and 
other food staples. For the first time in history, the envi- 
ronmental collision between expanding human demand 
for food and some of the earth's natural limits will have 
an economic effect that will be felt around the world. 

It will be tempting to blame China for the likely rise in 
food prices, because its demand for food is exceeding 
the carrying capacity of its land and water resources, 
putting excessive demand on exportable supplies from 
countries that are living within their carrying capacities. 
But China is only one of scores of countries in this situa- 
tion. It just happens to be the largest and, by an accident 
of history, the one that tips the world balance from sur- 
plus to scarcity. 

Analysts of the world food supply/demand balance 
have recognized that the demand for food in China 
would climb dramatically as industrialization acceler- 
ated and incomes rose. They have also assumed that 
rapid growth in food production in China would con- 
tinue indefinitely. But on this latter front, a closer look 
at what happens when a country is already densely 
populated before it industrializes leads to a very differ- 
ent conclusion. In this situation, rapid industrialization 
inevitably leads to a heavy loss of cropland, which can 

Overview: The Wake-Up Call 2 5 

override any rises in land productivity and lead to an 
absolute decline in food production. 

Historically, there appear to be only three other coun- 
tries that were densely populated in agronomic terms 
before industrializing — Japan, South Korea, and Tai- 
wan. The common experience of these three gives a 
sense of what to expect as industrialization proceeds in 
China. For instance, the conversion of grainland to 
other uses, combined with a decline in multiple crop- 
ping in these countries over the last few decades, has 
cost Japan 52 percent of its grain harvested area, South 
Korea 46 percent, and Taiwan 42 percent. 1 

As cropland losses accelerated, they soon exceeded 
rises in land productivity, leading to steady declines in 
output. In Japan, grain production has fallen 32 percent 
from its peak in 1960. For both South Korea and Tai- 
wan, output has dropped 24 percent since 1977, the 
year when, by coincidence, production peaked in both 
countries. If China's rapid industrialization continues, it 
can expect a similar decline. 2 

While production was falling, rising affluence was 
driving up the overall demand for grain. As a result, by 
1994, the three countries were collectively importing 71 
percent of their grain. (See Figure 1-1. ) 3 

Exactly the same forces are at work in China as its 
transformation from an agricultural to an industrial so- 
ciety progresses at a breakneck pace. Its 1990 area of 
grainland per person of 0.08 hectares is the same as that 
of Japan in 1950, making China one of the world's most 
densely populated countries in agronomic terms. If 
China is to avoid the decline in production that oc- 
curred in Japan, it must either be more effective in pro- 
tecting its cropland (which will not be easy, given 
Japan's outstanding record) or it must raise grain yield 


Million Tons 

Source: See endnote 3 Consumption 

Net Imports 


1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure i-i. Combined Grain Production, Consumption, and Trade 
for Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, 1950-94 

per hectare faster during the next few decades than 
Japan has in the last few — an equally daunting task, con- 
sidering the Japanese performance and the fact that 
China's current yields are already quite high by interna- 
tional standards. 4 

Building the thousands of factories, warehouses, and 
access roads that are an integral part of the industrializa- 
tion process means sacrificing cropland. The modern- 
ization of transportation also takes land. Cars and 
trucks — with sales of 1.3 million in 1992 expected to 
approach 3 million a year by the decade's end — will 
claim a vast area of cropland for roads and parking lots. 
The combination of continually expanding population 
and a shrinking cropland base will further reduce the 
already small area of cropland per person. 5 

At issue is how much cropland will be lost and how 

Overview: The Wake-Up Call 2 7 

fast. Rapid industrialization is already taking a toll, as 
grain area has dropped from 90.8 million hectares in 
1990 to an estimated 85.7 million in 1994. This annual 
drop of 1.26 million hectares, or 1.4 percent — remark- 
ably similar to the loss rates of China's three smaller 
neighbors in their industrialization heyday — is likely to 
endure as long as rapid economic growth continues. 6 

China faces another threat to its food production that 
its three smaller neighbors did not. Along with the con- 
tinuing disappearance of farmland, it is also confronted 
by an extensive diversion of irrigation water to nonfarm 
uses — an acute concern in a country where half the 
cropland is irrigated and nearly four fifths of the grain 
harvest comes from irrigated land. With large areas of 
north China now experiencing water deficits, existing 
demand is being met partly by depleting aquifers. Satis- 
fying much of the growing urban and industrial demand 
for water in the arid northern half of the country will 
depend on diversions from irrigation. 7 

That China's grain production might fall in absolute 
terms comes as a surprise to many. This is not the result 
of agricultural failure but of industrial success. Indeed, 
China's record in agriculture is an exceptional one. Be- 
tween 1950 and 1994, grain production increased 
nearly fourfold — a phenomenal achievement. After the 
agricultural reforms in 1978, output climbed in six years 
from scarcely 200 million tons to 300 million tons. With 
this surge, China moved ahead of the United States to 
become the world's leading grain producer. (See Figure 
1-2.) 8 

Another way of evaluating China's agricultural record 
is to compare it with that of India, the world's second 
most populous country. Per capita grain production in 
China, which was already somewhat higher than in 


1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure i-z Grain Production, United States and China, 1950-94 

India, climbed sharply after agricultural reforms were 
launched in 1978, opening an impressive margin over its 
Asian neighbor. (See Figure 1-3 .) 9 

Between 1978 and 1984, China did what many ana- 
lysts thought was impossible: In just six years, it raised 
annual grain production from roughly 200 kilograms 
per person to nearly 300 kilograms. At 200 kilograms, 
almost all grain is needed to maintain a minimal level of 
physical activity; an additional 100 kilograms a year 
opens the way for converting some grain into pork, poul- 
try, and eggs. The immediate challenge facing China is 
not averting starvation, for it has established a wide mar- 
gin between its current consumption level of 300 kilo- 
grams and the subsistence level. Rather, the challenge is 
to maintain price stability in the face of soaring demand 
for food driven by unprecedented advances in income. 10 

While China's food production capacity is starting to 

Overview: The Wake-Up Call 2 9 






Source: See endnote 9 


1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 1-3. Grain Production Per Person, China and India, 1950-94 

erode as a result of its breathtaking pace of industrializa- 
tion, its demand for food is surging. The country is pro- 
jected to add 490 million people between 1990 and 
2030, swelling its population to 1.6 billion — the equiva- 
lent of adding four Japans. Because China's population 
is so large, even a slow rate of growth means huge abso- 
lute increases. Yet these increases are only the beginning 
of the story. 11 

Even as population expands, incomes are rising at an 
unprecedented rate. Economic growth of 13 percent in 
1992 and again in 1993, of 1 1 percent in 1994, and of an 
estimated 10 percent in 1995 adds up to a phenomenal 
56-percent expansion of the Chinese economy in just 
four years. Never before have incomes for so many peo- 
ple risen so quickly. 12 

This rapid economic expansion promises to push de- 
mand for food up at a record rate. When Western 


Europe, North America, and Japan began establishing 
modern consumer economies after World War II, they 
were home to some 340 million, 190 million, and 100 
million people, respectively. By contrast, China is enter- 
ing the same stage with a population of 1.2 billion and 
an economy that is expanding twice as fast. If its rapid 
economic growth continues, China could within the 
next decade overtake the United States as the world's 
largest economy. 13 

Past experience has not prepared us well for assessing 
the scale of China's future food demand. Multiplying 
1.2 billion times anything is a lot. Two more beers per 
person in China would take the entire Norwegian grain 
harvest. And if the Chinese were to consume seafood at 
the same rate as the Japanese do, China would need the 
annual world fish catch. 

As incomes rise, one of the first things that low- 
income people do is diversify their diets, shifting from a 
monotonous fare in which a starchy staple, such as rice, 
supplies 70 percent or more of calories to one that in- 
cludes meat, milk, and eggs. As consumption of pork, 
beef, poultry, eggs, milk, and other livestock products 
increases along with income, grain requirements rise 
rapidly. 14 

In neighboring Japan, the soaring demand for grain 
driven by prosperity combined with the heavy loss of 
cropland since mid-century to push dependence on 
grain imports to 72 percent of total grain consumption 
in 1994. These same forces are now at work in China. It 
is one thing for a nation of 120 million people to turn to 
the world market for most of its grain. But if a nation of 
1.2 billion moves in this direction, it will quickly over- 
whelm the export capacity of the United States and 
other countries, driving food prices upward every- 
where. 15 

Overview: The Wake-Up Call 3 1 

The first signs of a growing imbalance between the 
demand and supply for grain in China became evident 
in early 1994. In February, grain prices in China's 35 
major cities had jumped 41 percent over the same 
month in 1993. In March, driven by panic buying and 
hoarding, the rise continued unabated. In response, the 
government released 2.5 million tons of grain from 
stocks to check the runaway increase in prices. This 
calmed food markets, but only temporarily. By October, 
grain prices were 60 percent higher than a year earlier. 
More grain reserves were released, and the government 
banned trading in rice futures on the Shanghai Com- 
modity Exchange. Speculators were driving futures 
prices upward, leading to panic among urban consum- 
ers. The 1994 inflation rate of 24 percent — the worst 
since modern China was created in 1949 — was largely 
the result of rising food prices. 16 

Resisting the import of grain throughout most of 
1994, Beijing let prices rise as much as possible to en- 
courage farmers to stay on the land. In recent years an 
estimated 120 million people, mostly from the interior 
provinces, have left the land and moved to cities in 
search of high-paying jobs. This rootless, floating popu- 
lation, roughly the size of Japan's, wants to be part of the 
economic revolution. As a potential source of political 
instability, these migrants are a matter of deep concern 
in Beijing. The government is trying to maintain a deli- 
cate balance, letting the price of grain rise enough to 
keep farmers on the land but not so much that it creates 
urban unrest that could lead to political upheaval. 17 

Leaders in Beijing are also trying to deal with massive 
unemployment and underemployment, with much of 
the latter masked by villagers eking out a meager exis- 
tence on tiny plots of marginal land. Creating enough 
jobs to employ productively an estimated 800 million 


workers depends on maintaining double-digit or near 
double-digit rates of economic growth. The government 
opened the country up to foreign investment in part be- 
cause it was the only way to get the capital and technol- 
ogy needed to achieve this vital goal. 18 

If China holds together as a country and if its rapid 
modernization continues, it will almost certainly follow 
the pattern of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, import- 
ing more and more grain. Its import needs may soon far 
exceed the exportable supply of grain at recent prices, 
converting the world grain economy from a buyer's mar- 
ket to a seller's market. (See Chapter 7.) Instead of ex- 
porters competing for markets that never seem large 
enough, which has been the case for most of the last 
half-century, importers will be fighting for supplies of 
grain that never seem adequate. 19 

In an integrated world economy, China's rising food 
prices will become the world's rising food prices. 
China's land scarcity will become everyone's land scar- 
city. And water scarcity in China will affect the entire 

In short, China's emergence as a massive grain im- 
porter will be the wake-up call that will signal trouble in 
the relationship between ourselves, now numbering 5.7 
billion, and the natural systems and resources on which 
we depend. It may well force a redefinition of security, a 
recognition that food scarcity and the associated eco- 
nomic instability are far greater threats to security than 
military aggression is. The chapters that follow analyze 
this transformation, explaining why and how it is likely 
to come about. 20 


China: Taking 

Another Half-Billion 

As Chinese leaders analyzed future population, land, 
and water trends some 20 years ago, they realized that 
they had to choose between the reproductive rights of 
the current generation and the survival rights of the next 
generation. What separates the government in Beijing 
from those in many other countries is that it is desper- 
ately trying to protect the options of the next generation, 
politically difficult though that may be. This farsighted- 
ness and the political courage of the government of 
China deserve recognition. 

In 1982, China's population reached 1 billion, mak- 
ing it the first member of an exclusive club. By 2017, its 
population is projected to reach 1.5 billion — equal to 
the world's entire population in 1900. Its demographic 
growth is then expected to slow and its population to 


peak at 1 .66 billion in 2045, after which it should start to 
decline slowly. (See Figure 2-1 .) l 

Looked at in terms of the last four decades and the 
next four, the magnitude of China's population growth 
becomes clear. From 1950 to 1990, China added 571 
million people. From 1990 to 2030, it is projected to 
add 490 million more. This anticipated addition reflects 
an impressive slowing in the rate of population growth, 
but it is still nearly a half-billion people. Stated other- 
wise, during the next four decades China will be adding 
an average of roughly 12 million people to the world 
annually. 2 

Many people think of Asia and Europe as having simi- 
lar population densities, but in reality Asia has many 
more people per hectare of grainland than Europe does. 
The grainland per person in China today is roughly half 
that in France and it is inherently less fertile. The other 





Source: See endnote 1 
t r 

1950 1975 2000 2025 2050 2075 

Figure 2-1. Population of China, 1950-94, With Projections to 2050 

Another Half-Billion 3 7 

difference is that Europe's population has stopped 
growing. Now that the growth in grain use per person 
that accompanied rising incomes has also come to an 
end, the demands made by the region's population on 
its land and water resources have stabilized. Europe is 
living well within its food production capability or, in 
ecological terms, its food carrying capacity. Indeed, it is 
producing a modest grain surplus. 3 

In geographic area, China and the United States are 
essentially the same size. The big difference is that the 
western half of China is largely inhospitable to human 
habitation. Lacking basic life-supporting soil and water 
resources, it contains only a small percentage of the 
country's people. 

For China, where the opportunity for bringing new 
land under cultivation is limited by water scarcity, popu- 
lation growth has a double-edged effect. First, it is 
shrinking the cropland area per person, as a fixed area is 
divided among an ever larger number of people. At the 
same time, the new citizens bring demands for living 
space, which in turn generates pressure to convert 
cropland to residential purposes. Simply housing an ad- 
ditional 490 million people in the next 40 years will re- 
quire an enormous area, some of which will be crop- 
land. 4 

There is a certain fascination with the demographic 
trends and issues of China partly because of its sheer 
size. In addition, the chaos of the Great Leap Forward 
and the arithmetic of the resulting famine that was long 
concealed from the outside world have intensified inter- 
est in China's demographic history. 

In the late fifties, during the Great Leap Forward, 
millions of farmers were diverted to large construction 
projects, including roads, huge earthen dams, and back- 


yard steel furnaces. This movement of labor from agri- 
culture led to massive food shortages. Official records 
now show that 30 million Chinese starved to death dur- 
ing 1959-61. The demographic effect of the famine, 
however, extended far beyond these deaths. 5 

In populations that are near starvation, the frequency 
of intercourse decreases, sharply reducing the number 
of possible pregnancies. Beyond this, severely malnour- 
ished women cease ovulating, thus further reducing the 
number of pregnancies. Women who do conceive when 
they are severely malnourished often miscarry. 6 

During the heart of the famine in 1960, the number of 
deaths in China actually exceeded the number of births. 
The birth rate fell to 21 per 1,000 population while the 
death rate climbed to 25 per 1,000, leading to a decline 
in China's population for one year. (See Figure 2-2.) 7 

Per 1,000 

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 2-2. Crude Birth and Death Rates in China, 1950-94 

Another Half-Billion 3 9 

The drop was so steep that it markedly affected the 
number of people added to world population. (See Fig- 
ure 2-3.) Between 1950 and 1957, that number was 
increasing steadily, climbing from 39 million to 57 mil- 
lion. It then began to drop, reaching a low of 41 million 
in 1960. As China recovered from the famine, the an- 
nual addition climbed sharply to 70 million in 1962, 
recovering the trend that had existed before the famine. 8 

The Great Famine of 1959-61 left an indelible im- 
print on China's national psyche. John Bermingham, 
president of the Colorado Population Coalition, ob- 
serves that "just as an American generation was seared 
by the Great Depression and a German generation by 
runaway inflation, the Chinese have had a generation 
seared by famine." These analogies help us understand 
the effect of the Chinese famine, but the latter was more 


1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 2-3. Annual Additi on to World Population, 1950-94 


traumatic simply because it was life-threatening for such 
a vast number of people. 9 

Like many governments, China was slow to recognize 
the population threat. Socialist ideology made it easy to 
dismiss the problem. As demographer Michael Teitel- 
baum notes, "For Marx, the fact that people were pro- 
ducers as well as consumers meant that the resource 
limits emphasized by the classical economists could 
arise under capitalism, but not under socialism." 10 

A quarter-century after the communist takeover in 
1949, the government began to recognize population 
growth as a matter of concern. This occurred as part of 
the post-Mao reassessment in which projections of 
China's population growth were made. Much to the dis- 
may of officials, based on an assumption of two children 
per couple, China could expect to add the better part of 
1 billion people, adding the equivalent of an India to its 
existing population. 11 

As analysts attempted to calculate the consequences 
of population increase for cropland and water supply 
per person, and the availability of capital for creation of 
jobs, they realized that this was not a viable proposition. 
They were then confronted with one of the most politi- 
cally difficult challenges for any government: the need to 
shift to a one-child family. 

China faces some unique and difficult demographic 
issues. In contrast to Europe, there is no meaningful 
emigration safety valve. For countries such as England, 
Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Spain, mounting popula- 
tion pressure during their early development translated 
into a steady flow of migrants, many of them bound for 
the New World. Today, there are more people of Irish 
extraction in the United States than in Ireland. Simi- 
larly, there are more Spanish descendants in Latin 

Another Half-Billion 4 1 

America than in Spain. Indeed, the New World is 
populated largely with the demographic overflow of 
Europe. 12 

The mounting population pressures in China today 
are occurring in a world far different from that of a cen- 
tury or two ago. No sparsely settled, habitable areas still 
exist. No country or group of countries wants to enter- 
tain the idea of absorbing 12 million Chinese each year. 

Trying to put the brakes on population growth in 
China has not been easy. The government in Beijing, 
like those in many other developing countries, waited 
too long before implementing a meaningful effort to re- 
duce family size. Faced with a tradeoff between smaller 
families in the present or deteriorating living conditions 
in the future as population pressures mounted, Chinese 
leaders opted in 1979 for the one couple/one child pol- 

This policy, which explicidy reflects the interests of 
future generations, has run into heavy resistance. One 
source of difficulty has been a strong preference for male 
children, a desire so powerful, particularly in rural areas, 
that is has led to widespread female infanticide. In each 
annual cohort, males outnumber females until age 64; 
thereafter, females outnumber males. The conflict be- 
tween local officials trying to implement this policy and 
couples intent on having more than one child has led, 
not surprisingly, to charges of coercion. It illustrates all 
too well the political conflicts that can develop within a 
society that is overrunning its human carrying capac- 
ity. 13 

Implementing the one-child-family policy has become 
more difficult in recent years. Job seekers migrating 
from countryside to city can more easily evade official 
monitoring of family size. Some families are becoming 


so affluent that they can readily pay the stiff penalty for 
having additional children. Moving quickly from a situa- 
tion of rapid population growth to one of population 
stability has proved to be politically challenging to say 
the least. 14 

Nevertheless, it is possible to consider a scenario that 
would stabilize population size in China well below the 
1.66 billion peak projected for 2045. The 1990 popula- 
tion pyramid, which gives the size of various age groups 
in the population, shows two age groups that are unusu- 
ally small. (See Figure 2-4.) The first group, those who 
are 30-34 years of age, was reduced by the famine of 
1959-61. The second, smaller group — those 10-14 
years of age — shows the effect of family planning pro- 
grams adopted in the mid-seventies and the echo effect 
of the smaller numbers born during the famine reaching 
reproductive age. If China can sustain its one-child- 
family program when the people born between 1975 
and 1986 reach childbearing age, its population size 
could stabilize sooner rather than later, and far short of 
the projected 1.66 billion. 15 

In 1993, the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) 
pointed out that China had succeeded in lowering its 
fertility below replacement level — that is, the total num- 
ber of children per woman was 2 or fewer. This was 
achieved within two decades of launching family plan- 
ning programs. 16 

Carl Haub, senior demographer at PRB, noted that 
the birth rate was 21.1 per 1,000 population in 1 990 and 
that it dropped to 19.7 in 1991 and to 18.2 in 1992. 
Since then the decline has continued, reaching 17.7 in 
1994. This reduced China's population growth rate to 
1 . 1 percent, roughly the same as that of the United 
States. The drop in China's population growth rate 
from 2.7 percent in 1970 to 1.1 percent in 1994 has 

Another Half-Billion 4 3 

Source: See endnote 15 

80+ II 80+ 

75-79 XL 75-79 

70-74 JT] ^ i 70-74 

65-69 Males Ml Females 65-69 

60-64 ■II 6 - 64 

55-59 J^B3, 55 " 59 

50-54 ^■_L 50-54 

45-49 J^MZIIL 45-49 

40-44 ^.^^HZIIZL 40-44 

35-39 li^^BIIIIZ] 35-39 

30-34 _^^^BZ~IL 30-34 

25-29 l^^MI | 25-29 

20-24 j^^^^^B | 20-24 

15-19 M^^^M I 15-19 

10-14 ^^^^■___J 10-14 

5-9 ^^^m~zzL 5-9 

0-4 ^MB 1 0-4 

120 90 60 30 30 60 90 120 

Figure 2-4. Age Pyramid of China's Population, 1990 

played a key role in lowering the global population 
growth rate during that time from 2.1 percent to 1.6 
percent. 17 

Recognizing the urgency of stabilizing population 
size, China's President and Communist Party chief, 
Jiang Zemin, renewed the call for one couple/one child 
in March 1995. Concern with the environmental, eco- 
nomic, and social effects of continuing population 
growth in China runs deep. President Jiang pointed out 
that "the rapid increase in a big population base has a 
direct bearing on the problems of food, of jobs, of edu- 
cation, of resource destruction, of environmental pro- 
tection, and an imbalanced ecology." Increasingly, Chi- 
nese leaders are becoming aware of the environmental 
consequences of the combined effect of population 
growth and rising affluence that their country is experi- 
encing. 18 

Moving Up the Food 

For those who live on the lower rungs of the global eco- 
nomic ladder, an increase in consumption of livestock 
products is a key measure of progress. When a Chinese 
villager in the interior of the country was asked in 1993 
by a reporter if living conditions were improving, he re- 
sponded, "Overall, life has gotten much better. My fam- 
ily eats meat maybe four or five times a week now. Ten 
years ago, we never had meat." 1 

China's 1.2 billion people are moving up the food 
chain at a remarkable rate. As noted in Chapter 1, China 
has experienced a phenomenal 56-percent expansion of 
its economy in just four years. With population growing 
at scarcely 1 percent per year, income per person has 
risen by half within this period. 2 

Never in history have so many people moved up the 

Moving Up the Food Chain 4 5 

food chain so fast. As incomes rise, one of the first things 
that low-income people do with their money is diversify 
their diets, shifting from a daily menu in which a starchy 
staple such as rice supplies 70 percent or more of calo- 
ries to a more diverse fare including meat — pork, poul- 
try, beef, and mutton — and eggs, milk, butter, cheese, 
yogurt, and ice cream. This pattern of dietary change as 
incomes climb is common to all societies with the excep- 
tion of those where religious restrictions apply, such as 
on beef in Hindu societies or pork in Muslim countries. 3 

The amount of livestock products consumed per per- 
son varies greatly among countries. For beef, for exam- 
ple, the average American eats 42 kilograms per year 
compared with 1 kilogram in China. For pork, con- 
sumption levels are much closer: 28 kilograms versus 21 
kilograms. Neither society consumes much mutton, on 
average in both about 1 kilogram per person a year. (See 
Table 3-1. ) 4 

Countries living high on the food chain, such as the 

Table 3-1 . Annual Per Capita Grain Use and Consumption of 
Livestock Products in Selected Countries, 1990 



Country Use 1 Beef Pork Poultry Mutton Milk 2 Eggs 


United States 800 42 28 44 1 271 16 

Italy 400 16 20 19 1 182 12 

China 300 1 21 3 1 4 7 

India 200 — 0.4 0.4 0.2 31 13 

bounded to nearest 100 kilograms since the countries are selected to 
show the range of consumption categories, ^otal consumption, including 
that used to produce butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream* — -• 

SOURCE: See endnote 4. 


United States and Canada, use some 800 kilograms of 
grain per person a year as food. Some of it is consumed 
directly as bread, breakfast cereals, and pastries, but 
most of it is eaten indirectly in the form of livestock 
products. In affluent societies, a small fraction of grain is 
also consumed in the form of grain-based beverages, 
such as beer, bourbon, scotch, and vodka. The total use 
of grain per person among the highest and lowest ranges 
from roughly 800 kilograms in the United States to 200 
kilograms in India, a ratio of 4 to 1 . In contrast to en- 
ergy, where the variations among countries can easily 
reach 30 to 1, consumption of food per person among 
countries varies in a much more narrow range. 5 

For Americans, the vast rangelands of the Great 
Plains sustain huge herds of beef cattle that are then 
finished in feedlots. Although large amounts of grain are 
fed to cattle in feedlots, the major share of U.S. beef 
production comes from grass. China, however, does not 
have vast rangelands. If it wants to produce more beef, it 
will have to do so largely in the feedlot. 6 

The growth in meat production and consumption in 
China since the economic reforms of 1978 is one of the 
best measures of the country's economic transforma- 
tion. In 1977, consumption totalled 7.7 million tons. By 
1994, this had climbed to 40 million tons, a fivefold 
increase in 16 years. Meat consumption per person 
climbed from 8 kilograms in 1977 to more than 32 kilo- 
grams in 1994. The gap in red meat consumption be- 
tween China and industrial countries is narrowing. Be- 
cause of China's high pork consumption per person, its 
total red meat consumption is now substantially larger 
than that of the United States. 7 

Indeed, pork dominates China's meat consumption, 
accounting for some three fourths of the total in 1994. 
(See Figure 3-1.) Lacking the rangelands to support 

Moving Up the Food Chain 4 7 

Million Tons 


Source: See endnote 8 

Fish (aquaculture) 

^ Poultry 

1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 

Figure 3-1. Meat Consumption by Type in China, 1975-94 

large herds of cattle or flocks of sheep, China has relied 
heavily on pigs for meat. The typical village family often 
has one pig, which provides a way of both disposing of 
table waste and providing fertilizer. 8 

The consumption of poultry, although it started from 
a much smaller base, is now expanding even more rap- 
idly. Between 1986 and 1994, output increased from 
1.9 million tons to 5.5 million tons, tripling in eight 
years. 9 

As China looks to consuming more meat in the fu- 
ture, it must also look for more grain. More meat means 
more grain — two kilograms of additional grain for each 
kilogram of poultry, four for pork, and seven for each 
kilogram of beef added in the feedlot. As the Chinese get 
richer, they will eat more meat, milk, and eggs, but if the 
supply of grain does not expand apace with their appe- 
tites, food prices will soar. 10 

With pork consumption already near western levels, 


the government is emphasizing the expansion of poul- 
try, eggs, and beef production. Although pork consump- 
tion per person in China is approaching that of the 
United States, the intake of beef, poultry, and dairy 
products is still minuscule by comparison. Poultry was 
once a rare luxury in China, and the average person still 
eats only one tenth as much chicken as an American. 
But the appetite for poultry is growing fast. Ironically, 
that change has been spurred by a government policy 
that encourages production of chickens because they 
convert grain into meat more efficiently than pigs or cat- 
tle do. During the nineties, poultry consumption, start- 
ing from a small base, is expanding at double-digit 
rates. 11 

The same thing is beginning to happen with eggs. The 
official goal for egg consumption has been set at 200 per 
person by the year 2000 — double the 100 of 1990 and 
close to the 235 consumed per year by the average 
American. With the population expected to reach 1.3 
billion people by then, annual egg consumption will rise 
to 260 billion. If eggs laid per hen in the year 2000 reach 
200 per year (U.S. hens average 250 a year), China will 
need a flock of 1 .3 billion hens to satisfy this need. Yet 
reaching this goal will take an additional 24 million tons 
of grain, an amount equal to the total exports of Can- 
ada, the world's second-ranking exporter. 12 

China is emphasizing the increased production of 
beef, but it is also starting to import some. In 1993, the 
nation brought in 2,100 tons of beef, much of it high- 
quality beef from Australia. This is purchased especially 
for use in hotels and restaurants to satisfy the expecta- 
tions of visitors from abroad, including a growing num- 
ber of tourists and business community representatives. 
Whether China gets beef by producing or importing it, 

Moving Up the Food Chain 4 9 

supplies will almost certainly have to come from feed- 
lots, simply because nearly all the world's rangelands are 
now being grazed at or beyond capacity. 13 

Consumption of dairy products in China is among the 
lowest anywhere, partly because it has one of the least 
lactose-tolerant populations of any country. (A Chinese 
restaurant menu several pages long typically will not 
offer a single dish that incorporates dairy products.) 
Consumption of milk in China totals 4 kilograms per 
person a year, compared with 271 kilograms in the 
United States. In India, where a huge herd of cattle sup- 
plies milk in addition to draft power, consumption per 
person is 3 1 kilograms. Despite widespread lactose in- 
tolerance, China's consumption of dairy products, par- 
ticularly ice cream, is likely to rise steadily in the years 
ahead, following the trend of its affluent East Asian 
neighbors. 14 

For China, it would be tempting to turn to the oceans 
for its animal protein as population pressure on the land 
intensifies, much as Japan did. As land became scarce 
there beginning a century ago, that country began rely- 
ing on the oceans for its animal protein. The result was 
the fish and rice diet that now characterizes Japanese 

Today, Japanese consumption of seafood is some 8 1 
kilograms per person a year, one of the highest in the 
world. Japan's annual total take from the oceans is 
roughly 10 million tons. If China, with a population that 
is 10 times larger, were to turn to the oceans for a similar 
dependence on seafood for animal protein, it would 
need 100 million tons of seafood — an amount that 
matches the world fish harvest of 101 million tons in 
1994. 15 

In recent years, as fleets of other seafood-hungry 


countries have joined Japan in the aggressive pursuit of 
fish, oceanic fisheries have been pushed to their biologi- 
cal limits. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture 
Organization, all 17 of the world's major fisheries are 
being fished at or beyond capacity. Nine are in a state of 
decline. So the Japanese option has been eliminated for 
any major newcomers. 16 

Future growth in demand for fish in China will have 
to be satisfied largely by fish farming. Faced with the 
need to cultivate its own fish supply, the nation has been 
producing some 6 million tons of fish (mosdy carp) a 
year. This, in turn, increases the demand for grain by 
roughly 2 tons for each ton offish produced, putting yet 
another demand on the country's shrinking grain fields. 
Rising grain prices, combined with the need to use 
scarce land and water for fish farming, will constrain the 
growth in fish consumption. 17 

Since the agricultural reforms of 1978, China's use of 
feedgrains has increased steadily, approaching 80 mil- 
lion tons in 1994 — some 23 percent of total grain con- 
sumption. (See Figure 3-2.) Its total use of feedgrains 
now ranks second only to that of the United States. If 
incomes continue to rise in the years ahead, then feed- 
grain use will also keep rising, absorbing an ever larger 
share of the world's total grain supply. 18 

And the good life for the newly affluent Chinese does 
not stop with meat and fish. They are also acquiring a 
great enthusiasm for beer. In 1981, beer production to- 
talled roughly 1 billion liters. By 1994, it had climbed to 
some 13 billion liters, or 11 liters per person. Over the 
next four years, output is projected to reach 22 billion 
liters. 19 

To raise beer consumption for each adult by just one 
bottle takes an additional 370,000 tons of grain. Three 

Moving Up the Food Chain 5 1 

Million Tons 

1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 3-2. Grain Used for Feed in China, 1960-94 

additional bottles per person would take the equivalent 
of Norway's entire grain harvest. This trend in China 
appears to be closely tracking that in Japan, where beer 
consumption per person is now among the highest in the 
world. Already China has overtaken Germany in total 
beer consumption, leaving it second only to the United 
States. 20 

In addition to the shift to more animal protein as in- 
comes rise, people on the low rungs of the global eco- 
nomic ladder also want to use more vegetable oil. In 
1994, China's consumption of vegetable oil per person 
was 6 kilograms per year. In Japan, it is 12 kilograms per 
year, and in the United States, 23. If China were to 
double its use to 12 kilograms, it would require more 
than 7 million additional tons of vegetable oil. Satisfying 
this new demand from imports would require world veg- 
etable oil exports, currently at 23 million tons (of which 


close to half is soybean oil), to expand by nearly one 
third. The United States, the world's leading producer 
and exporter of soybean oil, exports 7 million tons of 
soybean oil a year. 21 

The U.S. agricultural attache in Beijing estimates that 
in the marketing year beginning in 1995, China will be 
consuming 9.3 million tons of soybean oil and import- 
ing 3.5 million tons. Between 1984 and 1995, China 
will have gone from being self-sufficient in vegetable oil 
to importing 38 percent of its total consumption, with 
the growth in imports concentrated in the last few years. 
(See Figure 3-3.) 22 

Another commodity whose consumption climbs rap- 
idly with income is sugar. China's sugar consumption of 
6 kilograms per person annually is among the lowest in 
the world. The figure in India, which has a sweet tooth 

Million Tons 

Net Imports 

1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 3-3. Vegetable Oil Production, Consumption, and 
Trade in China, 1964-96 

Moving Up the Food Chain 5 3 

compared with other low-income countries, is 20 kilo- 
grams per year, much of it consumed in tea. As of 1994, 
China used 7.2 million tons of sugar and produced 6 
million tons, leaving it dependent on imports for 1.2 
million tons — 17 percent of its consumption. As sugar 
intake rises, China's claims on the world sugar harvest 
will increase accordingly. 23 

With the cropland base shrinking and with water 
shortages spreading, much if not all the growth in de- 
mand for food in China translates directly into imports. 
As the demand for grain, vegetable oils, and sugar con- 
tinues to rise, and as production increases little or even 
declines, the difference between the two must come 
from imports. Given the scale of China's projected 
needs, this will put pressure on world supplies, affecting 
food prices everywhere. 

The Shrinking Cropland 

In 1984, the government of China issued a directive re- 
stricting use of the traditional burial mounds because 
they were consuming too much scarce land. Instead, 
Beijing urged cremation. This competition for land be- 
tween the living and the dead poignantly underlines the 
extent of China's land scarcity. 1 

China is a large country, but only one tenth of its land 
is cultivable. Simply stated, much of this vast country is 
desert and mountain. And most of the cultivable land is 
in a 1,500-kilometer strip along the eastern and south- 
ern coasts. 2 

Not only is the cropland area per person one of the 
world's smallest, it is shrinking rapidly. Between 1990 
and 1994, the grain area harvested dropped from 90.8 
million hectares to 85.7 million. This decline of 5.6 per- 

The Shrinking Cropland Base 5 5 

cent in four years, combined with a population growth 
of 59 million (4.9 percent), reduced the grain harvested 
area per person by a striking 10.5 percent. 3 

The loss of cropland has long been a matter of con- 
cern to China's leaders, but with the heavy losses of the 
early nineties, the issue acquired a new sense of urgency. 
In early 1995, Zou Yuchuan, director of China's State 
Land Administration, said, "We have been racking our 
brains to find ways of protecting our farmland. But we 
are facing difficulties formulating policies to deal with 
the problem — the situation changes all the time." In re- 
ferring to the heavy loss of cropland between 1990 and 
1994, the Economic Information Daily of China said that 
"a land crisis is approaching If farmland loss contin- 
ues at the present rate, China will suffer a serious prob- 
lem of lack of food by the beginning of the twenty-first 
century." 4 

As indicated in Chapter 2, Asia is much more densely 
populated than Europe. Europe, whose population has 
stabilized, has a larger grain harvested area per person 
than does China, where population is projected to ex- 
pand by some 40 percent before stabilizing. Beyond 
this, heavy industrialization has been completed in 
Europe, thus limiting future nonfarm demands on crop- 
land. In China, most of the industrialization needed to 
create a modern consumer economy still lies ahead. 

Understanding what lies in store for China depends 
on some knowledge of how rapid industrialization has 
affected the cropland area in countries that were already 
densely populated before serious industrialization 
began. There are, as noted earlier, only three countries 
that fit into this category: Japan, South Korea, and Tai- 

The shrinkage in the grainland area in the three coun- 



tries is remarkably similar. After peaking in 1955, 
Japan's grainland area shrunk by 52 percent over the 
roughly four decades to 1994, or some 1.4 percent a 
year. For South Korea, the area has dropped 46 percent 
since peaking in 1965, an annual decline of 1 .2 percent. 
The trend for Taiwan is similar — a loss of 42 percent 
from 1962 to 1994, or 1.2 percent a year. (See Figure 
4-1.) For the three countries combined, the grainland 
area peaked in 1956 at 7.9 million hectares; by 1993, it 
had declined to 4.1 million hectares. This drop of 48 
percent over 37 years means the grainland area shrank 
by an average of 1 .2 percent a year. 5 

The remarkable consistency in the effect of industrial- 
ization on the cropland base suggests a certain inevita- 
bility. And it indicates how difficult, if not impossible, it 
will be for China to avoid a similar loss of cropland. 

Million Hectares 

Source: See endnote 5 







Figure 4-l Grainland Area in Japan, South Korea, 
and Taiwan, 1950-94 

The Shrinking Cropland Base 5 7 

In countries that are densely populated before indus- 
trialization begins, at least four distinct trends affect the 
grain harvested area. One is the conversion of cropland 
to nonfarm uses, including the construction of factories, 
housing, and roads. Another is the abandonment of 
cropland that is marginal either because its fertility is 
low or because plots are so small. A third is a decline in 
multiple cropping. The latter two trends are accelerated 
by rising wages in the nonfarm sector. And finally, as 
rising incomes drive up the demand for and prices of 
fresh fruits and vegetables, farmers shift land from grain 
to more profitable crops. 

Creating jobs in industry, like creating jobs in agricul- 
ture, requires land. Today China's labor force totals 
nearly 800 million, most of whom work in agriculture. 
Shifting 100 million workers from the farm labor force 
to the industrial sector, broadly defined, and assuming 
100 employees per industrial establishment (about par 
for China's private sector), means building 1 million 
factories. Each factory needs a warehouse to store the 
raw materials used in manufacturing and to store fin- 
ished products until they are shipped. Each factory also 
needs an access road. Factories have to be built where 
the people are, and the people are concentrated where 
the cropland is. Thus, modernization of the Chinese 
economy, as with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan 
before it, means sacrificing cropland. 

Residential demands are also claiming cropland. The 
490 million people to be added to China's population 
between 1990 and 2030 need to be housed. If it is as- 
sumed that each family consists of five individuals — a 
married couple, one child, and one set of in-laws — the 
additional people will require 98 million more housing 
units. Whether this need is satisfied with apartments or 


freestanding homes, it will consume a vast area of land, 
much of it cropland. 6 

Another consequence of rising affluence is an increase 
in the living space per person. In many cases, villagers 
are expanding their homes, adding a room or two. Oth- 
ers are simply building new, much larger homes. To 
illustrate, the floor space per person in Japan expanded 
from 20.5 square meters in 1970 to 28.6 square meters 
in 1990, an increase of more than one third in 17 years. 
Given the nationwide shortage of housing and the ex- 
tent of crowding, this trend can be expected to continue 
as long as incomes rise. 7 

Automobiles, too, are "consuming" cropland. In an 
industrial policy announced in July 1994, Beijing indi- 
cated that automobiles are to become one of the four 
growth industries of the next two decades — along with 
telecommunications, computers, and petrochemicals. 
Ironically, even as the Ministry of Agriculture is calling 
for new measures to protect cropland, the Ministry for 
Machinery Building is pressing for a massive expansion 
of the automobile fleet and is planning to provide incen- 
tives to encourage people to trade their trusty bicycles 
for cars. 8 

Annual sales of cars, vans, trucks, and buses, which 
totalled 1.2 million in 1992, are expected to approach 3 
million by decade's end. By 2010, Ministry projections 
show production of automobiles alone above 3.5 million 
per year, with two thirds of the new vehicles being sold 
to private owners. 9 

Meanwhile, the fleet of cars, which has increased 
from 1.15 million in 1990 to 1.85 million in 1994, is 
projected to reach 22 million by 2010. (See Figure 4-2.) 
A fleet of this size will require millions of hectares of 
land for a network of roads, highways, service stations, 

The Shrinking Cropland Base 5 9 












Source: See endnote 10 

1 1 I 1 

1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 

Figure 4-2. Automobile Fleet in China, 1990-94, 
With Projections to 2010 

and parking lots. Again, as with factories, these will have 
to be built where the people are. 10 

The Chinese government is now launching a massive 
highway construction program. Among other things, 
this includes four trunk routes that span the country in 
different directions. The longest one will link industrial 
northeastern Heilongjiang province with the southern 
island of Hainan. The second will go from Beijing to 
southern Guangdong province, ending up near Hong 
Kong. A third will link Jiangsu province on the east coast 
with Xinjiang in the far northwest. The fourth will link 
Shanghai, the city that is emerging as the country's 
major commercial center and port, with Sichuan prov- 
ince in the southwest. 11 

Builders completed 10,000 miles (16,129 kilometers) 
of new highway in 1994, of the 1 1,000 miles planned for 


that year. To reach its goal of building 1,800 miles of 
expressways by the end of this decade, the government 
is encouraging private investment in the construction of 
toll roads. The first such investment by a Hong Kong 
businessman led to the construction of a 77-mile super- 
highway linking Hong Kong and Guangdong. Projected 
to be self-financing, this $13-per-vehicle toll road has 
consumed a broad swatch of cropland, including some 
of China's most productive riceland. 12 

The bottom line is that there is now an army of bull- 
dozers cutting their way through the Chinese country- 
side building highways across rice paddies and wheat 
fields, leaving the nation with ever less cropland to sat- 
isfy its rising demand for food. 

In addition to factories, housing, and roads, farmland 
is also being claimed by shopping centers, tennis courts, 
golf courses, and private villas. In rapidly industrializing 
Guangdong province, an estimated 40 golf courses have 
been built in the newly affluent Pearl River Delta region 
alone. Concern about this wholesale loss of cropland has 
led the Guangdong Land Bureau to cancel the construc- 
tion of all golf courses planned but not yet completed. 13 

As noted earlier, the rapid rise in nonfarm wages now 
so evident in China typically leads to the abandonment 
of marginal cropland. Farmers with small holdings of 
the least productive land find they cannot participate in 
the rise in living standards unless they head for the cities. 
In effect, rising incomes in the society make the cultiva- 
tion of marginal land unprofitable. They also lead to a 
decline in multiple cropping. Rising grain prices can 
slow this process, but even in Japan, where rice is sup- 
ported at six times the world market price, these trends 
continue with little abatement. 14 

One of the keys to boosting food production in Asia, 

The Shrinking Cropland Base 6 1 

particularly during this century's third quarter, was a 
rise in multiple cropping — an increase in the number of 
crops produced per hectare of cropland per year. By 
1964, for example, Taiwanese farmers had boosted the 
number of crops per hectare to a national average of 1 .9. 
In effect, they were harvesting on average almost two 
crops for their entire cropland area. In Japan, which has 
a shorter growing season since it is further north, the 
multiple cropping index reached 1.33 in 1960. South 
Korea's peaked in 1963 at 1.45. Interestingly, in each of 
these three countries, the multiple cropping index ap- 
pears to have peaked during the early to mid-sixties and 
then begun to decline. 15 

The index drops as industrialization progresses and 
wages rise. Multiple cropping is a labor-intensive activ- 
ity during certain periods, dependent on quickly har- 
vesting a crop once it is mature and preparing the 
seedbed and planting the next one. As nonagricultural 
wages rise, it becomes more difficult for farms to com- 
pete for the labor needed during the peak periods of field 
activity, and multiple cropping declines. In Taiwan, it 
dropped to 1.23 in 1993. In South Korea, the figure fell 
to 1.08 in 1992. And in Japan, by 1988 it was 1.03, 
scarcely one crop per hectare. At this point, the Japanese 
government apparently discontinued this indicator be- 
cause the remaining amount of multiple cropping was 
negligible. (See Figure 4-3.) 16 

For China, the multiple cropping index reached 1.5 — 
that is, an average of 1 .5 crops per hectare — for the first 
time in 1978, the first year of the reforms. By 1992, it 
had edged up to 1.56 percent. China may now be at the 
point where rising wages will lead to a gradual decline in 
multiple cropping, as it did in the other Asian nations 
three decades earlier. Indeed, the 5.6-percent decline in 



Crops Per Hectare 

Per Year 





Japan Korea 

Source: See endnote 16 



— r— 



Figure 4-3. Multiple Cropping Index in Japan, Taiwan, 
and South Korea, 1960-92 

grain harvested area between 1990 and 1994 suggests 
that the multiple cropping index may be peaking, setting 
the stage for a gradual, long-term decline. 17 

Closely associated with rising affluence is a growing 
demand for fresh fruit and vegetables. As a result, the 
area in high-value vegetable crops, which are more 
profitable than cereals, increases rapidly. Between 1970 
and 1994, the area in vegetables more than tripled, from 
2.7 million hectares to 8.7 million. (See Table 4-1. ) 18 

If incomes continue to rise rapidly, the demand for 
fresh vegetables will also continue to rise as the Chinese 
consume more strawberries, asparagus, lettuce, and 
other highly valued garden crops. There is no reason to 
assume that the conversion of grainland to vegetable 
crops will not continue during the next few decades. 

Nowhere have the forces just described been stronger 

The Shrinking Cropland Base 6 3 

Table 4-1. China: Area in Vegetables, 1970-94 

Year Area 


1970 2.7 

1979 3.2 

1981 3.4 

1982 3.9 

1983 4.1 

1984 4.3 

1985 4.7 

1986 5.3 

1987 5.6 

1988 6.0 

1989 6.3 

1990 6.4 

1991 6.5 

1992 7.0 

1993 7.9 

1994 8.7 

SOURCE: See endnote 18. 

than in China's booming coastal provinces in the south. 
Here, the land where factories now stand was just a few 
years ago producing two or three crops of rice per year. 
Losing this means losing some of the world's most pro- 
ductive cropland. 

If the nation continues on essentially the same indus- 
trial path as that followed by Japan, South Korea, and 
Taiwan, and if this reduction of grainland continues, 
China will have lost roughly half its grainland by 2030. If 
the population continues to grow as projected, adding 
490 million people between 1990 and 2030, the grain- 
land area per person will shrink from 0.08 hectares in 
1990 to 0.03 hectares in 2030. (See Figure 4-4.) 19 


Per Person 






Source: See endnote 19 

1 1 1 1 

1950 1970 1990 2010 2030 2050 

Figure 4-4. Grainland Per Person in China, 1950-94, 
With Projections to 2030 

Chinese political leaders are tempted to think that 
they can somehow avoid a massive loss of cropland to 
nonfarm uses. But if they look at the experience in 
Japan, they will see how difficult protecting cropland 
can be. Few governments have worked as strenuously at 
this as Japan did. Even within the city limits of Tokyo, 
tiny patches of land produce rice. Some 13,000 Japa- 
nese families farm land within that city. If this land were 
released for sale in the Tokyo real estate market, it might 
easily be worth 100 times its value as farmland. It is 
difficult to see how China, which lacks the social cohe- 
sion and discipline of Japan, could do any better. Even 
with this effort, Japan's harvested grainland area has 
shrunk by half during the last four decades. 20 

This seemingly inevitable loss of land is not so much a 
matter of land use policy as it is a function of population 

The Shrinking Cropland Base 6 5 

density relative to cropland. If China's leaders try hard, 
they can slow the loss of cropland, but they cannot pre- 
vent it. And this loss will increase pressure on cropland 
elsewhere in the world. 

Spreading Water Scarcity 

As recently as mid-century, water supplies in China 
were abundant, relative to demand. Surface and under- 
ground sources together were more than adequate to 
satisfy the needs of the country's 500 million people. 
Since then, however, the water supply/demand balance 
has deteriorated as water use has increased sixfold — 
driven by population growth, irrigation expansion, ris- 
ing affluence, and industrialization. The water scarcity 
that now plagues much of China reflects the extent to 
which demand is outrunning the sustainable yield of riv- 
ers and aquifers. 1 

In late 1993, Minister of Water Resources Niu Mao 
Sheng observed that "in rural areas, over 82 million 
people find it difficult to procure water. In urban areas, 
the shortages are even worse. More than 300 Chinese 

Spreading Water Scarcity 6 7 

cities are short of water and 100 of them are very 
short." 2 

In large areas of north China, demand is being met by 
depleting aquifers. In much of the country, future urban 
and industrial demand can be satisfied only by diverting 
water from irrigation — a worrying development in a 
country where half the cropland is irrigated. 3 

Water scarcity is one of the more difficult issues facing 
the government of China. As New York Times Beijing 
correspondent Patrick Tyler notes, "Any threat to 
China's ability to provide enough water for food pro- 
duction, job creation and overall economic growth is a 
threat to the established order." 4 

The area of irrigated land in China, totalling some 17 
million hectares in 1950, reached 47 million hectares in 
the nineties — a near tripling. (See Figure 5-1.) This 
four-decade trend, however, masks two distinctive peri- 
ods. During the first, from 1950 to 1977, the irrigated 
area increased by more than a million hectares annually. 
From 1977 to 1991, it increased by only 170,000 hect- 
ares a year. An analyst from the East- West Center in 
Hawaii argues that there has been very little real growth 
since the agricultural reforms of 1978. 5 

From mid-century through 1977, the growth in irri- 
gated area greatly outstripped that of population, ex- 
panding the irrigated area per person by roughly two 
thirds, from 0.03 hectares in 1950 to 0.05 hectares in 
1977. The launching of the economic reforms in 1978 
brought this large investment in irrigation to an end. 
From 1977 onward, the irrigated area per person has 
declined, dropping roughly one fifth, or back to 0.04 
hectares per person, by the early nineties. 6 

With 49 million hectares, China has more irrigated 
land than any other country. This compares with some 


Million Hectares 

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 5-1. Land Under Irrigation in China, 1950-92 

46 million hectares in India and 20 million in the United 
States, the countries ranking second and third in irri- 
gated area. Far more important to China than to those 
other nations, irrigation covers roughly half of the total 
cropland area and accounts for nearly four fifths of the 
all-important grain harvest. 7 

In the four-and-a-half decades since the Communist 
regime took over, the growth in irrigation has come from 
two sources. Until about 1970, most of it came from the 
development of surface water resources with dams, both 
large and small. The water was backed up and then di- 
verted onto the land, usually through a gravity-fed sys- 
tem of canals. Since 1970, however, most of the addi- 
tional irrigation has come from tapping underground 
water. Some 2 million wells now supply water for irriga- 
tion. 8 

Irrigation has led to much more intensive land use. In 

Spreading Water Scarcity 6 9 

some cases, land that once produced a single crop of rice 
now produces two or three crops a year. In other cases, 
wheat is grown as a winter crop and rice as a summer 
crop, both irrigated. The net effect was a substantial 
increase in the multiple cropping index from 1950 to 
1980, as noted in Chapter 4 — an increase in the har- 
vested area without any appreciable gain in the actual 
cropland area. Now this era may be coming to an end. 9 

One of the best analyses of China's changing water 
balance appears in China's Environmental Crisis by Va- 
clav Smil, a China scholar at the University of Mani- 
toba. Smil describes in dire terms the extent of falling 
water tables in northern China, noting that the province 
most affected by overpumping is Hebei, which sur- 
rounds both Beijing and Tianjin. 10 

Smil notes the distinction in northern China between 
the area of irrigated land and the land adequately irri- 
gated. Some of the irrigated land receives only a fraction 
of the water needed to maximize yields. Hebei, Hanan, 
Shandong, and Shanxi are among the provinces where 
the application of irrigation water is far less than the 
ideal. Smil notes that "growing water claims of the 
plains, large cities and industrial areas will tend to lower 
even these modest irrigation rates." 11 

Water scarcity is most acute in Shanxi province, 
where one tenth of the province's peasants face chronic 
shortages of drinking water. Not only is the amount of 
irrigation water applied less than the optimum, but one 
quarter of the province's irrigated fields cannot be guar- 
anteed water during the growing season. 12 

One of the cities in the 100 facing severe water short- 
ages is Beijing, the capital. In the region immediately 
around the city, farmers in early 1994 were banned from 
the reservoirs from which they once drew their irrigation 


water. Burgeoning urban water demand now requires 
that all local water be available for use in Beijing. 13 

In the competition between the countryside and the 
city for water supplies, one that is now being waged at 
countless sites both in China and around the world, 
farmers invariably lose. They simply cannot afford to 
pay nearly as much as residential and industrial users for 
water. With 300 cities in China already short of water, it 
is likely that in the years ahead farmers will be excluded 
from water sources surrounding many other urban areas 
as water scarcity intensifies. More and more farmers will 
be forced to join those around Beijing who have reverted 
to less intensive rain-fed farming. 14 

As farmers turn increasingly to groundwater, the 
pumping of underground water in large areas of north- 
ern China is exceeding the recharge rate of aquifers. The 
result is falling water tables. In southwestern Shanxi 
province, for example, overpumping has dropped the 
water table by some 70 meters (or nearly 230 feet). As 
aquifers are depleted, land levels often fall. This process, 
known as subsidence, now affects an area in northern 
China the size of Hungary. 15 

Subsidence can affect aquifers' inherent long-term 
productivity. Aquifers have two functions: the storage 
and transport of water. Both are important and both 
may be diminished by excessive pumping. Unfortu- 
nately, the long-term geological effects of progressive 
aquifer depletion are poorly understood. Are the parts of 
the world now suffering from subsidence experiencing 
irreversible declines in the water storage and transport 
capacity of their aquifers? 

In regions of China where pumping rates exceed 
aquifer recharge rates, the amount of water pumped will 
eventually be reduced. This, in turn, means either using 

Spreading Water Scarcity 7 1 

water more efficiently, where that is possible, or shifting 
to less intensive cropping practices. In central and 
northern China, for example, where wheat and rice are 
double-cropped, this may mean replacing rice with a 
less water-demanding, lower-yielding staple crop, such 
as sorghum or millet. This shift to less intensive farming 
may arrest the fall in the water table, but it is not a 
welcome prospect in a country where the demand for 
grain is growing at a record rate. 

Another form of damage from surface water irrigation 
is waterlogging and salinity. These are reducing produc- 
tivity on an estimated 15 percent of China's irrigated 
land. When river water is diverted onto the land, part of 
it percolates downward. Without adequate drainage, the 
water table rises. When it reaches a few feet below the 
surface, deep-rooted crops suffer from waterlogging of 
their root zones. When it gets within inches of the sur- 
face, water evaporates through the soil into the atmo- 
sphere, leaving a thin layer of salt on the soil surface. 
Unless this rise in the water table can be reversed, by 
installing either more wells in the area or an under- 
ground drainage system, the accumulating salt eventu- 
ally turns fertile land into wasteland, as it did in the early 
Middle East civilizations. 16 

Future water needs in China are expected to continue 
growing at a rapid pace. Each sector — agriculture, in- 
dustry, and residential — will be demanding far more 
water a few decades from now than it is today. With 
food, for example, the combination of a population 
reaching 1.6 billion by 2030 and the continuing rise of 
individual consumption of livestock products could 
nearly double the demand for grain over current levels. 17 

Although historically the industrial sector has not ac- 
counted for a large share of water use in China, its de- 


mand for water has started to soar. With an industrial 
growth rate of more than 1 1 percent a year, industrial 
water needs could easily double within seven years. In 
Beijing, 23 percent of water withdrawals are for indus- 
try. In Tianjin, the figure is slightly lower, at 19 percent. 
One consequence of acute water scarcity in the northern 
part of China could be the gradual shift of more water- 
intensive industries to the water-rich southern prov- 
inces. 18 

Similar huge growth in water demand is in prospect in 
the residential sector. Today only a very small percent- 
age of China's 1.2 billion people live in homes with in- 
door plumbing, but virtually everyone aspires to such a 
home and millions more are reaching this goal every 
year. Families living in traditional style, often sharing 
sanitary facilities, may use only 10 gallons of water per 
person daily. Those living in more modern apartment 
houses easily use two to three times this amount. As 
incomes rise, so does water consumption. As this transi- 
tion to modern living progresses, residential water needs 
will also climb. 19 

Although there are no good data on the extent of 
water diversion from farming to the industrial and resi- 
dential sectors, anecdotal evidence — such as the ban- 
ning of farmers from reservoirs in the vicinity of Beij- 
ing — indicates it is growing rapidly. 20 

One reason for severe water scarcity in the northern 
half of China is the regional imbalance between the dis- 
tribution of water and the distribution of cropland. 
More than four fifths of the surface water in China is 
found in the Yangtze and other river basins in the south. 
But this region has only 37 percent of the country's 
cropland. The large area north of the Yangtze, which 
has one fifth of the surface water, has nearly two thirds 
of the cropland. 21 

Spreading Water Scarcity 73 

Concern over water scarcity is rising, particularly in 
the north. Water shortages in northern China have even 
raised questions about the suitability of Beijing as the 
capital. They have also renewed discussions of a 1,400- 
kilometer (860-mile) canal that would bring water from 
the south to the water-deficit north. Although the cost of 
building this enormous conduit — comparable to supply- 
ing Washington, D.C., with water from the Mississippi 
River — was initially estimated at $5 billion, the total 
could ultimately be several times larger. Among other 
things, such a canal will challenge engineers because it 
must cross 219 rivers and streams, including the Huang 
He (Yellow River), en route to Beijing. 22 

The water for this South-North Water Diversion Pro- 
ject would come from a reservoir on a tributary of the 
Yangtze River at Danjiangkou. If this reservoir is ex- 
panded and the water in it raised by 50 feet, it will have a 
drop of 300 feet to Beijing, making it possible for the 
water to move over the 1,400-kilometer aqueduct 
largely by gravity. As it approaches Beijing, the aque- 
duct is slated to divide, with one branch going to the 
capital and the other to Tianjin. 23 

This system of transferring water from one river basin 
to another would carry seven times as much water as is 
now used in New York City. This huge conduit would 
be designed to irrigate some of the land along its 1,400- 
kilometer path. Even so, the region would still be faced 
with severe water scarcity. 24 

There is still a lot of waste in China's use of water, 
even in water-scarce cities such as Beijing. Because 
water is supplied free or is greatly underpriced, it is used 
inefficiently. If Beijing's leaders fail to deal with this 
issue and are forced to ration water, they will have diffi- 
culty creating the conditions that will attract the multi- 
national corporations, luxury hotels, and housing devel- 


opments that will bring an expanding community from 
abroad that is desired by the city's leaders. 25 

Finally, there is the as yet incalculable but potentially 
enormous toll of global warming. Even a modest loss of 
rainfall or increase in evaporation could disrupt China's 
finely tuned, highly productive agriculture. 

There can be little doubt that China is facing not only 
a massive conversion of farmland to nonfarm uses if it 
maintains its breakneck pace of industrialization, but 
also a heavy diversion of irrigation water to both indus- 
trial and residential uses. The bottom line is that this is 
likely to accelerate the long-term decline in grain pro- 
duction now in prospect for China. 


Raising Cropland 

In a country where cropland area is no longer expand- 
ing, as in China, future growth in food output can come 
only from raising land productivity. The central ques- 
tion, therefore, is whether China's farmers can raise 
grain yield per hectare fast enough to offset the inevita- 
ble loss of cropland. Data for the four years since 1990 
indicate they are losing the race, just as farmers in Japan, 
South Korean, and Taiwan did two or three decades 
earlier. 1 

For China, improving productivity essentially means 
raising yields of the three crops that occupy most of its 
cropland: rice, wheat, and corn. Each of these three 
grains accounts for roughly 100 million tons of the 340- 
million-ton annual grain harvest. Rice and wheat, of 
course, are the two national staples, with rice dominat- 


ing in the south and wheat in the north. Some corn is 
also consumed as food, but most of that harvest is now 
fed to livestock. 2 

Since mid-century, the changes in China's land pro- 
ductivity fall into four distinct periods. The 28-year 
span from 1950 through the launching of economic re- 
forms in 1978 was marked by a slow but steady rise in 
land productivity. The only notable interruption to this 
was 1955-61, a span that encompassed the Great Leap 
Forward, when yields were actually declining as millions 
of the country's farmers were diverted from farming to 
huge construction projects, ranging from backyard steel 
furnaces to large earthen dams. Once the country had 
recovered from the chaos and famine associated with the 
Great Leap Forward, land productivity resumed a grad- 
ual but steady rise. Much of the improvement during 
this period came from the spread of irrigation. 3 

As the large production teams were broken up under 
the 1978 reforms and farmers were given long-term 
leases on the land they worked, productivity soared. Be- 
tween 1977 and 1984, total grain production went from 
199 million to 306 million tons — an increase in the har- 
vest of more than half in just seven years, a feat not 
equalled by any other major food-producing country. 
Much of this phenomenal growth came from a dramatic 
rise in the use of fertilizer. Before the reforms, China 
was using far less fertilizer than was profitable. 4 

Then from 1984 to 1990, the rise in land productivity 
slowed, as did the growth in fertilizer use. In the fourth 
period, since 1990, yields have been rising at an even 
slower pace. 5 

To understand the long-term potential for increasing 
rice yields in China, it is instructive to look at the experi- 
ence of Japan — the first country to initiate a steady rise 

Raising Cropland Productivity 7 7 

in yields, which began around 1880. After a century of 
systematically applying ever more advanced technology 
and using more sophisticated inputs, Japan's rice yields 
appeared to hit a ceiling in 1984 at about 4.7 tons per 
hectare. Since then, yields have fluctuated mostly be- 
tween 4.5 and 4.7 tons per hectare, except in 1 993 when 
bad weather led to a record drop and in 1994, a recovery 
year, when they climbed above 4.9 tons. (See Figure 
6-1.) Even though Japan's support price for rice is six 
times the world market level, making it extraordinarily 
profitable to boost land productivity, farmers there have 
not been able to sustain the historical rise in yields. 6 

Thirty years ago, China's rice yields were scarcely half 
those of Japan, but by the early nineties they averaged 
just over 4 tons per hectare, greatly narrowing the gap. If 
China's cropland area is underreported for tax reasons, 

(milled rice) 

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 6-i. Rice Yield Per Hectare, China and Japan, 1950-94 


then yields are overstated, leaving more potential to 
boost yields. 7 

In the fall of 1994, the International Rice Research 
Institute in the Philippines, the world's leading center 
for rice breeding, announced that it had designed a rice 
variety that would lift yields 20-25 percent above the 
highest yielding varieties now available in Asia. This 
gain was achieved by redesigning the plant so that an 
increased share of its metabolic energy would go into the 
formation of seed, thus raising the amount of grain pro- 
duced per hectare. 8 

This new prototype is now being distributed to the 
major rice-producing countries of Asia. In each country, 
it will be bred with local varieties to incorporate resist- 
ance to indigenous insects and plant diseases and to oth- 
erwise adapt it to local growing conditions. If the new 
variety is successful in China and boosts yields by the 
maximum theoretical amount of 25 percent, it would 
add some 30 million tons of rice to the harvest, enough 
to cover roughly one tenth of the projected growth in 
demand for grain between now and 2030. 

With wheat, perhaps the best way to evaluate China's 
performance is to compare it with the United States, the 
other major producer. From 1950 until 1980, wheat 
yields in the United States were well above those in 
China. But the agricultural reforms of 1978 lifted 
China's yields of wheat, much of it grown on irrigated 
land, above those of the United States. Once they had 
surpassed the U.S. level in 1982, yields continued to 
rise, widening their lead. (See Figure 6-2. ) 9 

Wheat yields in China climbed 81 percent from 1975 
to 1984, jumping from 1.64 tons per hectare to 2.97 
tons — a remarkable gain for such a large country. Dur- 
ing the following 10 years, however, they rose only 17 

Raising Cropland Productivity 79 

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 6-2. Wheat Yield Per Hectare, China and the 
United States, 1950-94 

percent, reaching 3.48 tons per hectare in 1994. With 
water scarcity reducing irrigation application rates in the 
north, where wheat is grown, raising yields will become 
progressively more difficult. 10 

With corn, the third major grain, China has made im- 
pressive progress in recent years. Even so, yields are still 
scarcely 60 percent those of the United States. This gap 
could narrow further somewhat, but few countries can 
approach the yields achieved in the U.S. Corn Belt, 
which has an ideal combination of deep soils; near- 
optimal rainfall, both in annual amount and seasonal 
distribution; temperature; and day length. 11 

As noted earlier, the history since mid-century of 
grain yield per hectare in China breaks into four distinct 
periods. (See Table 6-1.) The first, and by far the long- 
est, was from 1950 to 1977. During this period, produc- 



Table 6-1. Increase in Grain Yield Per Hectare in 
China, Selected Periods, 1950-94 



SOURCE: See endnote 12. 


Per Year 








+ 103 

+ 2.7 



+ 62 

+ 7.1 



+ 11 

+ 1.8 



+ 3 

+ 0.7 

tivity per hectare doubled. One of the keys to this was 
the expansion of irrigated area along with the adoption 
of higher yielding varieties of wheat and rice, develop- 
ments that paralleled those in other countries in Asia 
that benefited from the Green Revolution. 12 

By far the most dynamic period in China's recent ag- 
ricultural history occurred from 1977 to 1984, when the 
nation led the world in raising land productivity. During 
this time grain yield per hectare rose by 62 percent, a 
phenomenal annual rate of nearly 7.1 percent. In just 
seven years the yield per hectare climbed 1 .3 tons, com- 
pared with less than 1.1 tons during the preceding 27 
years. As a result of the 1978 economic reforms, which 
broke up the production teams and shifted to family 
farm units, China in effect compressed into a matter of 
years much of the Agricultural Revolution that had 
taken a few decades in many countries. The 1978 re- 
forms triggered a dramatic rise in the use of fertilizer, the 
input that was primarily responsible for the phenomenal 
yield increases during this period. 13 

After 1984, yields slowed, increasing less than 2 per- 

Raising Cropland Productivity 8 1 

cent a year through 1990. It was becoming much more 
difficult to improve productivity. Then from 1990 to 
1 994, yield per hectare rose even more slowly, edging up 
only 0.7 percent annually. 14 

China has been remarkably successful in raising land 
productivity mostly because it irrigates such a large 
share of its cropland. From 1950 to 1994, the yield per 
hectare increased 3.7-fold. This suggests that China has 
done a good job of exploiting the technologies available 
to raise yields of all grains. If new technologies, such as 
the rice under development in the Philippines, prove 
successful, they might provide an opportunity for mod- 
est additional gains. 15 

But it is unlikely, unless there is some new break- 
through, that yields will be increased dramatically. At 
one time, there was high hope that biotechnology would 
create another generation of high-yielding varieties that 
would greatly increase yields, much as the earlier gener- 
ation of high-yielding varieties did that were produced 
by conventional plant breeding. Unfortunately, this 
hope has faded as 20 years have passed and biotechnol- 
ogy has not led to a single dramatic gain in yield of 
any grains. (The new rice type from the Philippines 
was developed using conventional plant breeding tech- 
niques.) 16 

Biotechnology should not be dismissed, however, be- 
cause it is helping develop increased pest resistance in 
some crops and drought tolerance in others. In some 
cases, it is speeding up the process of plant breeding and 
lowering the cost of achieving such research goals as 
greater insect and disease resistance. Given the lack of 
any revolutionary breakthroughs in this field or with 
conventional plant breeding, the prudent position is to 
assume that there is not likely to be another generation 


of grain varieties that will double or triple the yields of 
existing ones. 

China now leads the world in fertilizer use, having 
surpassed the United States — the long-time leader — in 
1986. By 1994, China's fertilizer use had climbed to 
29.2 million tons, compared with 18.5 million tons in 
the United States. (See Figure 6-3.) 17 

The U.S. experience in using fertilizer may be useful 
in assessing the prospects in China. After growing stead- 
ily from 4 million tons in 1950 to more than 20 million 
tons in the late seventies, U.S. fertilizer use actually de- 
clined during the eighties and early nineties. During the 
peak years from 1979 to 1981, it averaged 21 million 
tons. From 1992 to 1994, the figure was 18.4 million 
tons, a decline of more than one tenth. With a half- 
century tradition of raising fertilizer use, U.S. farmers 
eventually overshot the mark, using more fertilizer than 
was profitable. 18 

Million Tons 

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 6-3. Fertilizer Use, China and the United States, 1950-94 

Raising Cropland Productivity 8 3 

China's use of fertilizer did not reach 1 million tons 
until the early sixties. It then increased slowly until the 
agricultural reforms of 1978. Between 1977 and 1986, 
fertilizer use tripled, accounting for much of the phe- 
nomenal growth in grain production during that period. 
Although it has increased by another 10 million tons 
since then, the associated growth in the grain harvest has 
been quite modest, suggesting that China's farmers in 
the mid-nineties may be using more fertilizer than is 
economic, much as U.S. farmers were doing at the be- 
ginning of the eighties. 19 

One key to assessing the prospects for future trends in 
fertilizer use is the grain-fertilizer response ratio. In the 
United States, total grain production divided by fertili- 
zer use yields a response ratio in recent years of roughly 
15 tons of grain for each ton of fertilizer used. In China, 
the ratio is much closer to 1 1 to 1 . This means that 
fertilizer use in China has reached a point where the 
response of grain yields is much lower than in the 
United States, suggesting that fertilizer use is not likely 
to increase much in the years immediately ahead. 20 

Complicating the assessments of crop yield potential 
when comparing yields with other countries are the wide 
variations in inherent land fertility. To the extent that 
cropland is erodible, it is not surprising that centuries, if 
not millennia, of cultivation might have reduced the in- 
herent fertility of land. Although comprehensive data on 
soil erosion are not available for China, as they are in the 
United States, the data that are available suggest sub- 
stantial levels of erosion. 

Both water and wind erosion take a heavy toll. The 
Huang He (Yellow River) that drains much of northern 
China derives its common name from the 1.6 billion 
tons of topsoil it annually transports to the ocean. And 
so much of China's topsoil becomes airborne that scien- 


tists at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, the U.S. 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 
official site for collecting air samples to measure change 
in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, can detect the 
dust within a matter of days after spring plowing starts in 
northern China. 21 

Soils in China tend to be low in organic matter simply 
because crop residues — straw, corn stalks, and so on — 
are typically removed from the field and used either for 
forage or fuel. In the United States, by contrast, crop 
residues are usually left on the land to improve soil 
structure and thus enhance fertility. 

One area in which China has an advantage is in nutri- 
ent recycling. Many of the nutrients removed from the 
land in the form of crops are returned in the form of 
human waste. But even here, the legendary "honey- 
buckets" and other techniques for recycling sewage 
onto the land are beginning to break down as labor costs 
rise and as the society urbanizes. 22 

One trend hanging over China's agricultural future is 
the growing share of its crop output that is based on the 
unsustainable use of water. In northern China, for ex- 
ample, where water tables are falling over such a vast 
area, aquifers will eventually be depleted. (See Chapter 
5.) When they are, the irrigation water supply will be 
reduced as pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of 
aquifer recharge. If pumping is double the rate of re- 
charge, for instance, then the eventual depletion of the 
aquifer will reduce the water pumped by half. Already 
farmers are losing their water supplies and reverting to 
rain-fed farming. As this trend continues, it will have the 
effect not only of lowering yields but also of making har- 
vests more vulnerable to drought. 

Air pollution and acid rain are intensifying through- 

Raising Cropland Productivity 8 5 

out China as the amount of coal burning increases. One 
result is lower crop yields and forest productivity not 
only in China but in Japan and South Korea as well, 
given the prevailing winds. So far there is no direct mea- 
sure of how much this reduces yields, but some idea of 
the extent of damage comes from the United States, 
where official estimates place the annual crop loss to air 
pollution at 5 percent or more. It could be as high as 10 
percent. If U.S. losses are this heavy, then the more se- 
vere air pollution in China is no doubt taking a hefty toll 
on that country's harvest. 23 

Crop yields in China in the decades ahead will un- 
doubtedly continue to rise, but they are not likely to 
increase dramatically. Indeed, for some crops, year-to- 
year changes might be scarcely perceptible. In looking at 
the two key inputs that have improved land productivity 
so impressively over the last few decades — irrigation 
water and fertilizer — there is a growing likelihood that 
their use may not expand much in the future and it is 
quite possible that water availability for irrigation will 
actually decline. 

As noted earlier, the central question is whether fu- 
ture rises in land productivity will be sufficient to offset 
the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses as industrialization 
progresses. Barring some dramatic new technological 
breakthroughs, this now seems unlikely. 


The Shifting World 
Grain Balance 

The Growing Grain 

Estimating China's future food deficit is a scary exer- 
cise. Individuals doing the official grain supply projec- 
tions at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in 
Rome, at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and 
within the Chinese government have been spared some 
of this trauma simply because they have overlooked the 
heavy loss of cropland that accompanies industrializa- 
tion in a country that is already densely populated 
before the process begins. They have thus assumed that 
production would continue to climb, closely tracking 
the rise in consumption, leading to only modest future 
deficits. 1 

Earlier chapters described what happened to grain 
production in three other countries that were in this sit- 
uation — Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. This chapter 


simplifies the analysis by drawing primarily on the expe- 
rience of Japan, the largest of the three. 

China today has many similarities with mid-century 
Japan. Both are densely populated in agronomic terms. 
Harvested grainland per person in Japan in 1950 was 
0.08 hectares, compared with 0.07 hectares in China 
today. By mid-century, Japan's industrialization was 
well under way. 2 

To summarize the points made earlier, the main rea- 
son for the fall in grain production in Japan during the 
last four decades has been the loss of grainland to other 
uses associated with industrialization. In the very early 
stages, production rose as agriculture intensified and as 
multiple cropping increased. But before long, industri- 
alization began to claim cropland for construction of 
factories and warehouses and of the roads and highways 
that are an integral part of a modern industrial economy. 
And as nonfarm wages climbed, workers left agriculture, 
reducing the amount of multiple cropping. 

Japan's harvested area of grain peaked in 1955 at 5.1 
million hectares. By 1994, it had shrunk to 2.4 million 
hectares, a decline of just over half. (See Figure 7-1.) 
This was not the result of a planned effort to reduce the 
cropland area; it was the consequence of the inescapable 
need to build thousands of factories, warehouses, and 
accompanying access roads and of higher wages drawing 
labor away from farming. 3 

The harvested area also fell as multiple cropping de- 
clined. As economic development progressed and wages 
increased, it became more and more difficult for people 
farming tiny plots to match the growth in incomes in the 
industrial sector. The loss of cropland accelerated with 
industrialization, quickly reaching the point where it 
overwhelmed rises in land productivity, leading to a 

The Growing Grain Deficit 9 1 

Million Hectares 

Source: See endnote 3 
t 1 r 

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 7-1. Grainland Area in Japan, 1950-94 

steady decline in grain production. Japan's peak produc- 
tion year came in 1960. Despite the hefty rises in rice 
yield per hectare since then, grain output has fallen 32 
percent, nearly 1 percent a year. 4 

From 1950 to I960, grain production rose more or 
less in parallel with consumption. (See Figure 7-2.) But 
then production began its long-term gradual drift down- 
ward. Consumption, on the other hand, continued its 
rapid rise until the mid-eighties, generating an ever 
wider gap between demand and supply. 5 

This can be seen clearly in the trend in net grain im- 
ports. From 4 million tons in 1950, imports increased 
very slowly until 1960. But once production turned 
downward, they climbed rapidly until the mid-eighties. 
This particular graph is for Japan, but the trends are 
exactly the same for South Korea and Taiwan. The pat- 
terns are identical simply because the same forces are at 


Million Tons 

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 7-2. Grain Production, Consumption, and 
Imports in Japan, 1950-94 

work in all three. Only the timing of the production 
downturn and the associated climb in imports varies, 
and then only by a matter of years. 6 

From the perspective of the fifties, it was not clear 
from consumption and production trends that Japan 
was on the verge of an explosive growth in its depen- 
dence on imported grain. But over the next 27 years, 
grain imports climbed to 28 million tons. 7 

In terms of reliance on imports, Japan depended on 
grain from other countries for 25 percent of its grain 
consumption in 1950; by 1985, this had risen to more 
than 70 percent, where it has since remained. Since 
1985, imports have accounted for roughly 72 percent of 
consumption, except in 1993, when weather sharply re- 
duced the rice harvest and pushed the figure to 76 per- 
cent. Most of the growth in the share of grain imported 

The Growing Grain Deficit 9 3 

occurred between 1960 and 1975. (See Figure 7-3.) 8 

By the mid-eighties, Japan's grain consumption was 
levelling off, in part because further gains in income no 
longer led to large increases in consumption of livestock 
products. To the extent that consumption of beef, pork, 
poultry, and other livestock products is still increasing, it 
is being satisfied in part by imports. For example, al- 
though Japan's consumption of beef is relatively low by 
international standards, the nation now imports more 
than half of its supply, most of it from Australia and the 
United States. 9 

China in the mid-nineties may now be where Japan 
was in the early sixties. Production of grain from 1990 to 
1994 has been static, showing little movement up or 
down. This loss of momentum could mean that a de- 
cline in output is imminent. Although production of 


1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 7-3. Net Grain Imports as Share of Consumption 
in Japan, 1950-94 


wheat and corn are up slightly, that of rice — which is 
concentrated in the south, where industrialization is 
most rapid — has dropped by more than 8 percent be- 
tween 1990 and 1994. If industrialization continues and 
spreads more into the central and northern provinces, as 
government policy is fostering, then production of corn 
and wheat may soon follow rice downward. 10 

There are several key reasons why China's grain defi- 
cit could grow even faster than that of Japan. One is the 
lack of the seafood option, which enabled Japan to turn 
to the oceans to satisfy much of its growing demand for 
animal protein. As noted earlier, if the average Chinese 
were to consume as much seafood as the average Japa- 
nese, China would need the entire world fish catch of 
100 million tons. 11 

Because Japan does rely so heavily on seafood for ani- 
mal protein, the situation there understates the amount 
of grain that China would need to achieve the same level 
of animal protein intake. If Japan's 10 million tons of 
seafood were replaced with pork and poultry, the nation 
would require roughly another 30 million tons of grain, 
thus increasing imports from 28 million tons in 1994 to 
58 million tons, or 84 percent of a much greater grain 
consumption. 12 

The second unfavorable situation affecting China that 
Japan did not have to face is the growing diversion of 
irrigation water to urban and industrial uses. (See Chap- 
ter 5.) Water tables are now falling under much of 
northern China. The prospect of a reduction in water 
pumping combined with the diversion of a larger share 
of this water to urban and industrial uses means that 
China's grain production could decline over the next 
few decades even faster than Japan's did. 13 

Yet another unfavorable contrast between China 

The Growing Grain Deficit 9 5 

today and Japan a generation ago is that China has 
higher grain yields as its rapid industrialization gets 
under way than Japan did when it entered a similar pe- 
riod of intense industrialization. The unrealized yield 
potential of each of the three major grains — rice, wheat, 
and corn — in China today is likely to be much less than 
it was in Japan at a comparable stage of industrial devel- 

Even allowing for some boosts in rice yields from re- 
search currently under way in China and from the new 
varietal prototype under development at the Interna- 
tional Rice Research Institute, the long-term prospect 
for large additional rice yield increases in China is not 
bright. The plateauing in grain production during the 
last four years suggests that the loss of cropland is al- 
ready offsetting modest gains in land productivity. As 
noted in Chapter 4, between 1990 and 1994 China's 
grain harvested area shrank by just over 1 percent a year. 
With grain yield per hectare rising by just under 1 per- 
cent annually, production is declining slightly. Initial es- 
timates put the 1995 grain harvest at 337 million tons, 1 
percent below the 341 million tons of 1990. This sug- 
gests that the long-term decline in grain output that ac- 
companied industrialization in Japan, South Korea, and 
Taiwan may be starting in China. 14 

Once the decline in Japan's grain production got 
under way after 1960, output fell by roughly 1 percent a 
year, for some 32 percent in total. In looking ahead to 
2030, a conservative assumption would be that China's 
grain production would fall by at least one fifth. If this 
happens, the 1990 harvest of 340 million tons would fall 
to 272 million tons by 2030. Again, it should be empha- 
sized that this projected decline may be conservative, 
given the prospective heavy loss of both cropland and 


irrigation water to the nonfarm sector. 15 

In projecting demand, two scenarios can be consid- 
ered. Under the first, demand increases only as a result 
of population growth and there are no further rises in 
per capita consumption of meat, milk, eggs, beer, or 
other food products dependent on the use of grain. The 
second scenario assumes that the Chinese people con- 
tinue their recent move up the food chain, albeit at a 
much slower rate than that of Japan. It suggests that the 
current annual consumption of just under 300 kilo- 
grams of grain per person, including both that con- 
sumed directly and that consumed indirectly in the form 
of livestock products and alcoholic beverages, will in- 
crease to 400 kilograms by the year 2030. 16 

Such a consumption level would be roughly the same 
as Taiwan today, or half the U.S. per capita grain use of 
more than 800 kilograms per year. This would, in effect, 
represent a substantial slowdown in the rise in grain 
consumption per person compared with the 16 years 
since 1978, when the economic reforms were launched. 
This is to be expected, since the most rapid rises in con- 
sumption come when incomes are rising through the 
lower ranges rather than the upper ones. 17 

Under both scenarios, the resulting grain deficit is 
huge, many times that of Japan — currently the world's 
largest grain importer. In 1990, China produced 340 
million tons of grain and consumed 346 million tons, 
with the difference covered by imports of just 6 million 
tons. In the first scenario, allowing only for the projected 
population increase, China's demand for grain would 
increase to 479 million tons in 2030. In other words, 
even if China's booming economy produced no gains in 
consumption per person of meat, eggs, and beer, a pro- 
jected 20-percent drop in grain production to 272 mil- 

The Growing Grain Deficit 9 7 

lion tons would leave a shortfall of 207 million tons — 
roughly equal to the world's entire 1994 grain exports of 
more than 200 million tons. (See Figure 7-4.) 18 

But China's newly affluent millions will of course not 
be content to forgo further increases in consumption of 
livestock products. If per capita grain consumption 
climbs to 400 kilograms in the year 2030, total demand 
for grain will reach a staggering 641 million tons. (See 
Figure 7-5.) Under this scenario, the import deficit 
would reach 369 million tons, nearly double current 
world grain exports. 19 

As a reality check to gauge the reasonableness of these 
figures, a back-of-the-envelope calculation provides a 
look at what China's grain imports will be in 2030 if 
its dependence on imports is similar to that of Japan, 
South Korea, and Taiwan today. Japan, the largest of 

Million Tons 


(290 kg/person) 


Source: See endnote 18 

1 1 1 1 

1990 2000 2010 2020 2030 2040 

Figure 7-4. Projected Grain Production and Consumption in 
China Based on Population Growth, 1990-2030 


Million Tons 


Figure 7-5. Projected Grain Production and Consumption in China 
Based on Population and Income Growth, 1990-2030 

the three, has one tenth of China's population. Multi- 
plying its 28 million tons of grain imports by 10 pro- 
duces an import figure for China in 2030 of 280 million 
tons. Using South Korea as a basis, with a population 
that is only 3 percent that of China's, yields a figure of 
363 million tons of imports in 2030. And Taiwan has a 
population that is less than 2 percent that of China's, so 
adjusting its 6 million tons of imports per year translates 
into 333 million tons of grain. 20 

While China's political leaders are reluctant to recog- 
nize the possibility of a grain deficit so large that it could 
lead to global food scarcity, at least one Chinese scien- 
tist has made calculations similar to these. Professor 
Zhou Guangzhao, head of the Chinese Academy of 
Sciences, observes that if consumption per person na- 
tionwide reaches the level of the most affluent coastal 

The Growing Grain Deficit 9 9 

provinces (about the same level as Taiwan) and if the 
nation continues to squander its farmland and water re- 
sources in a breakneck effort to industrialize, "then 
China will have to import 400 million tons of grain from 
the world market. And I am afraid, in that case, that all 
of the grain output of the United States could not meet 
China's needs." 21 

At this point, there is little doubt that massive grain 
deficits lie ahead for China. How quickly they will begin 
to unfold depends more on the rate of industrialization 
than any other single factor. Continuing rapid industri- 
alization will chew up cropland and reduce grain pro- 
duction while at the same time moving the country's 1 .2 
billion people — and counting — up the food chain. With 
consumption climbing and the possibility that produc- 
tion could soon start to fall, a massive grain deficit 
within a matter of years appears likely. 22 

Such a scenario does not depend on a continuation of 
the 10-13 percent annual economic growth of the last 
four years. Existing projections have the economy of 
China growing at an average of 8 percent a year from 
1995 to 2005. The most reasonable assumption would 
be that this rate would gradually slow as 2030 draws 
closer until by that time it might well be in the 2-3 per- 
cent range, comparable to the average of industrial 
countries in recent years. 23 

China has always been reluctant to import large quan- 
tities of grain, but evidence that official stocks were 
largely depleted in 1994 in efforts to prevent runaway 
grain prices suggests that future shortfalls can be filled 
only by importing. Even though millions of tons of grain 
were released to the market from the official government 
grain reserve in 1994, grain prices still climbed through- 
out the year. In its closing months, grain prices were 60 


percent higher than those of a year earlier. With food 
purchases accounting for close to half of total consumer 
expenditures, food price rises pushed the overall rate of 
inflation to 24 percent for 1994, the highest since the 
Communist party took power in 1949. 24 

Although the government allowed grain prices to in- 
crease substantially in order to raise rural incomes and 
to encourage people to stay on the land, it cannot permit 
this to continue much longer without jeopardizing the 
political stability of the cities. From now on, threatened 
price rises will have to be checked either with rationing, 
something the government is reluctant to do, or with 

The year 1994 appears to have been a pivotal one for 
China, perhaps marking the transition from an era of 
being essentially self-sufficient to one of growing depen- 
dence on imported grain. In early 1994, China was still 
exporting substantial amounts of corn, a short-lived sur- 
plus from a surge in corn production that occurred in 
the early nineties. By late spring, private firms were 
reneging on corn export contracts to South Korea and 
other countries. In effect, they were arguing that domes- 
tic corn prices had risen to the point that they could not 
procure corn at the contract price. In late summer, corn 
exports were officially banned. 25 

After having oscillated between small net exports and 
imports of grain during the last 20 years, China may be 
about to begin importing steadily expanding amounts. 
In the trade year 1993/94, it actually had net grain ex- 
ports of some 8 million tons. In 1994/95, its net grain 
imports are estimated at 1 6 million tons. But even the 
shift of 24 million tons in one year in the grain balance 
does not reflect the full change, since Beijing released 
large amounts of grain from stocks as it tried to check 

The Growing Grain Deficit 101 

the rise in prices. In addition, the price rise itself 
checked the growth in demand, reducing the actual 
shortfall to a level much lower than it would have been 
otherwise. 26 

Although data on government-held grain stocks are 
not made public, reserves apparently were reduced 
substantially by releases during 1994. One source re- 
ports that between October 1993 and the end of 1994, 
stocks dropped from 40 million to 26 million tons. Un- 
less grain stocks can be rebuilt, future efforts to check 
rising prices will likely have to rely heavily on imports. 27 


Competition for Grain 

Concern about food security runs deep in China. The 
current leaders, remembering all too clearly the Great 
Famine, are committed to self-sufficiency in food, at 
least in their public statements. They are also commit- 
ted to industrialization — getting rich is now glorious. 

It is hard to imagine a government any more commit- 
ted to industrialization, yet Beijing faces a dilemma. It 
cannot continue to industrialize and remain self-suffi- 
cient in food. In addition, China has decided to build an 
auto-centered transport system, which will claim a vast 
amount of additional cropland. If policymakers follow 
this path and if the frenetic pace of industrialization con- 
tinues, imports of grain may well reach an unprece- 
dented level before the end of this decade. 1 

In confronting a deficit on the scale projected, two key 

Competition for Grain 103 

questions arise: Will China have enough foreign ex- 
change to import the grain it needs? And will the grain 
be available? On the first count, if the premise underly- 
ing this demand is a continuation of the economic 
boom, there would likely be ample income from indus- 
trial exports to pay for the needed grain imports at cur- 
rent prices. 

China's nonagricultural exports are growing by leaps 
and bounds. Since the economic reforms were launched 
in 1978, they have grown at a prodigious rate. In 1994, 
these exports surpassed $100 billion for the first time. 
Recent record levels of foreign investment by global cor- 
porations are designed both to ensure access to the Chi- 
nese market and to capitalize on the vast pool of cheap 
labor within China to ensure competitiveness in world 
markets. This latter goal translates into growing ex- 
ports. 2 

If exports continue to grow as expected, China will 
have ample foreign exchange with which to import 
grain. Its trade surplus with the United States in 1994 
reached nearly $30 billion. (See Table 8-1.) Filling a 
100-million-ton import deficit, which is equal to nearly 
half of world grain exports, by bringing in wheat or corn 
at 1994 prices of roughly $150 a ton would require $15 
billion. Given its trade surplus with the United States 
alone, China could buy all U.S. grain exports — grain 
that now goes to more than 120 grain-deficit coun- 
tries — even if grain prices doubled. 3 

Given the likely continuing growth in China's nonag- 
ricultural exports, importing 200 million or even 300 
million tons of grain at current prices would be within 
economic range if the country's leaders were willing to 
use a share of export earnings for this purpose. Of 
course, this could mean cutting back on capital goods 



Table 8-1. China's Trade Surplus with the United 
States y 1980-94 


Exports to 
the United States 

Imports from 
the United States 


(billion dollars) 




- 2.7 




- 1.7 




- 0.7 








+ 0.1 








+ 1.7 




+ 2.8 




+ 3.5 




+ 6.2 




+ 10.4 




+ 12.7 




+ 18.3 




+ 22.7 




+ 29.5 

SOURCE: See endnote 3. 

imports and possibly on oil imports, which in turn could 
diminish the inflow of technology and energy needed to 
sustain rapid economic growth. 

The more difficult question posed earlier is, Who 
could supply grain on this scale? The answer: no one. 
No one exporting country nor even all of them together 
can likely expand exports enough to cover more than a 
small part of this huge additional claim on the world's 
exportable grain surplus. In the real world, the price of 
grain would rise, reducing consumption and imports 
while stimulating production and exports until a new 
balance was reached. 4 

Looking back at the changing trade balance since 

Competition for Grain 105 

mid-century gives some sense of what the grain export 
potential might be and how it relates to China's pro- 
jected needs. Trade is a sensitive indicator, measuring 
the balance between the supply and demand of a prod- 
uct within a particular country. Since grains are staple 
foods, it effectively gauges the capacity of a country to 
feed itself. It is a measure of the difference between the 
demand for food and the carrying capacity of a country's 
land and water resources with any given level of technol- 
ogy and investment. 

In 1950, North America was the only one of the 
world's seven regions that had a substantial export sur- 
plus of grain. (See Table 8-2.) Indeed, exports from 
North America of 23 million tons were offset by the 22 
million tons of grain imported by Western Europe. Asia 
was beginning to import, but on a relatively small 
scale — 6 million tons — compared with Europe. 5 

Over time, this pattern changed. By 1990, the world 
grain trade was still dominated by exports from North 

Table 8-2. The Changing Pattern of World Grain 
Trade, 1950-90 1 

Region 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 

(million tons) 

North America 

+ 23 

+ 39 +56 +130 

+ 110 

Western Europe 


-25 -22 - 9 

+ 27 

E. Europe. & Soviet Union 


- 35 

Latin America 

+ 1 

+ 4-15 

- 10 



- 25 


- 6 


- 81 

Australia & New Zealand 

+ 3 

+ 6 + 8+19 

+ 14 

This sign indicates net exports; minus sign, net imports. 
SOURCE: See endnote 5. 


America (110 million tons), but imports were domi- 
nated by Asia (8 1 million tons) . Latin America had gone 
from a slight surplus to a net import position of 10 mil- 
lion tons, as grain-buying by Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, 
and other smaller countries more than offset exports 
from Argentina. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet 
Union emerged as a substantial importer during this pe- 
riod, as did Africa. By 1990, they were bringing in 35 
and 25 million tons of grain* respectively. 6 

The big surprise was Western Europe. From the be- 
ginning of the Industrial Revolution through 1970, the 
region was a net importer of grain. But as its population 
stopped growing, as yield-raising technologies con- 
tinued to advance, and as subsidies stimulated output, 
grain production moved above consumption during the 
eighties, making it a net exporter of 27 million tons in 
1990. 7 

These trends in the regional grain trade pattern over 
the last four decades give some sense of the major shifts 
occurring in world trade and some of the reasons for it. 
But to get a clearer sense of whether grain will be availa- 
ble to fill China's looming deficit, it is useful to look at 
some of the key exporters on a country-by-country 

Australia, for example, typically exports 12-15 mil- 
lion tons of grain a year. It does not often go much above 
that, but it sometimes falls well below it in years of se- 
vere drought, such as 1994-95, when it exported only 6 
million tons. Australia is unique among industrial coun- 
tries in its limited progress in raising grain yield per hect- 
are and, therefore, overall grain production. During the 
last 40 years, its average grain yield has gone up by 
roughly half, less even than in Africa. Australia is unable 
to double and triple yields, as so many countries have 

Competition for Grain 107 

done, because it is a semiarid or arid country. It has little 
water, and without water the potential for fertilizer use is 
limited, thus preventing any striking rises in grain pro- 
duction. 8 

Canada is in a somewhat similar situation. Most of its 
grain is produced in the northern reaches of the Great 
Plains, where farmers must contend not only with low 
rainfall, similar to that in the U.S. Great Plains, but also 
with a harsh winter and short growing season. While 
farmers in the U.S. Great Plains largely grow winter 
wheat, those in Canada can grow only the lower-yield- 
ing spring wheat. Without the abundant rainfall of the 
U.S. Corn Belt, the potential for using fertilizer to boost 
yields on Canada's grainland is limited. 

In addition, Canada is experiencing difficulty even in 
maintaining its wheat production as the demand for veg- 
etable oils climbs. Several years ago, Canadian plant 
breeders succeeded in producing a high-quality cooking 
oil from rapeseed, a traditional oilseed crop that is 
widely grown in Europe and China. Seeking a more 
marketable name, the Canadians decided to call rape- 
seed canola — short for Canadian oil. 9 

To satisfy the soaring demand for canola, which is one 
of the least saturated of the vegetable oils and therefore 
in demand for dietary reasons, Canadian farmers had to 
sacrifice wheatland. As a result, Canada's wheat crop 
fell by a fifth from 1990 to 1994 as canola production 
nearly tripled. This dramatic rise in output pushed the 
value of the canola harvest up to that of wheat in 1994, 
marking perhaps the first time in Canadian economic 
history that wheat was not the dominant crop. Given the 
desire for more vegetable oil, particularly among low- 
income consumers in China and India whose incomes 
are rising rapidly, it seems likely that the global demand 


for this product will continue its recent rapid climb. 10 

Another traditional grain-exporting country, Argen- 
tina, faces a similar conflict between grain and oilseeds. 
Here it is soybeans that compete with grain in the use of 
land. Among the exporters, however, Argentina almost 
certainly has the largest share of unused or underused 
production potential. If it can realign its economic poli- 
cies to remove the heavy export tax on farm commodi- 
ties, Argentina has the agronomic potential to perhaps 
double its annual grain exports from the recent 10-12 
million tons. Large though such a gain might be for Ar- 
gentina, it appears small in light of China's projected 
needs. 11 

If prices rise high enough to provide sufficient reim- 
bursement to Europe's farmers, the European Union 
might return to production the 12.5 percent of the 
grainland that it set aside in 1995 under the common 
agricultural policy. If this happens, Europe could con- 
tinue to export grain at a level comparable to that of 
recent years. Otherwise, with the dismantling of the high 
support prices, Western Europe's grain production may 
well fall, reducing its exportable surplus. 12 

Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are still 
importing grain in substantial amounts. But if the new 
republics could reverse the recent decline in grain pro- 
duction associated with economic reforms, as the East 
European countries did beginning two years ago, they 
could again export grain. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, 
all with stable populations, could export at least modest 
quantities of grain. Partially offsetting this potential sur- 
plus are the Asian republics, such as Kyrgyzstan, Uzbe- 
kistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, which have popu- 
lation growth rates well above that of India. This, 
combined with water scarcity, makes growing food defi- 

Competition for Grain 109 

cits in these countries appear inevitable. 13 

Thailand has also traditionally exported rice and 
corn, but it has recently lost its exportable surplus of 
corn as population and rising incomes have driven the 
demand for livestock products upward. It should still be 
able to maintain exports of rice for some time, however, 
perhaps at roughly the current level of 5 million tons per 
year. 14 

The only other major grain exporter is the United 
States, which can produce and export more grain than it 
now does — but probably not nearly as much as some 
people think. In 1994, the United States returned to 
production all the grainland idled under commodity 
supply management programs. Even with this land in 
use and one of the best U.S. harvests in memory, world 
grain stocks still fell. 15 

The one other reserve that the country can call on is 
the 14 million hectares (36 million acres) in the Conser- 
vation Reserve Program (CRP). Located mostly in the 
wheat-growing region of the western plains, this land 
typically produces 2.5 tons of grain per hectare (roughly 
35 bushels per acre), compared with Midwestern corn- 
land that produces 8 tons per hectare (120 bushels per 
acre). 16 

Some of the CRP land, all of which is highly erodible, 
could be farmed on a sustainable basis if agricultural 
practices were adjusted using, for example, minimal 
tillage practices, crop rotations, or some other soil- 
conserving practices. Part of the CRP land is so erodible 
that it should be left in grass and grazed, which is the 
only use that is sustainable. 

Two key questions in the United States are, How 
much cropland will be available? And how much irriga- 
tion water will be available over the longer term? Ac- 


cording to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some 21 
percent of the irrigated cropland in the United States is 
watered by drawing down underground water tables. 
Much of this irrigation is in the central and southern 
Great Plains, where farmers irrigate with wells and over- 
head sprinklers, drawing water from the Ogallala 
aquifer, which is essentially a fossil aquifer. In the more 
shallow southern end, the aquifer has already been de- 
pleted in some locations and farmers are going back to 
rain-fed farming. This is most common in the Texas 
panhandle region and is largely responsible for the de- 
cline in irrigated area in Texas of some 30 percent in the 
last 15 years. 17 

In looking ahead at the U.S. potential during the next 
four decades, a combination of Ogallala depletion and 
the diversion of irrigation water to satisfy the demands 
of Sim Belt cities, such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tuc- 
son, Las Vegas, El Paso, and Denver, will further reduce 
the water available for irrigation in the southern Great 
Plains and the Southwest. The growth in U.S. irrigated 
cropland shows a clear slowdown in recent years as the 
demand for water has collided with the sustainable yield 
of aquifers and as depletion of the Ogallala aquifer be- 
gins to shrink irrigation water availability. (See Figure 
8-1. ) 18 

A second constraint on the growth in U.S. food pro- 
duction is the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses. Between 
1990 and 2030, the United States is projected to add 95 
million people. Satisfying the nonfarm land needs of this 
38-percent addition to U.S. population means sacrific- 
ing at least some cropland. With the U.S. average of 
three people per household, this means building 32 mil- 
lion housing units — freestanding houses, townhouses, 
or apartments. As in the past, a large share of these will 

Competition for Grain 111 

Million Hectares 


Source: See endnote IS 

1 1 1 1 

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 8-i. Irrigated Land in the United States, 1954-94 

be built on cropland. Beyond housing, these new Ameri- 
cans will also require a proportionate increase in facto- 
ries, schools, churches, shopping malls, golf courses, 
cars, roads, and parking lots. 19 

With the additional 95 million people comes a simul- 
taneous jump in the demand for grain of some 76 mil- 
lion tons — assuming today's consumption of 800 kilo- 
grams per person annually — along with loss of cropland. 
The net effect will make it more difficult to expand the 
exportable surplus of grain. 20 

In looking at the longer term U.S. grain export poten- 
tial, there is lurking in the background the possibility of 
another summer, or perhaps even a series of summers, 
like that of 1988 — when severe heat and drought 
dropped the U.S. grain harvest below consumption for 
the first time in history. Fortunately, the United States 
was then holding huge, near-record carryover stocks of 


grain. By exporting this reserve, it met the import needs 
of the more than 120 grain-importing countries that 
look to the United States for part of their grain supply. 
In 1995, world carryover stocks of grain are at the lowest 
level in 20 years. 21 

If the United States were to go through a summer like 
that of 1988 at a time when grain stocks are so low, 
world grain markets would soon be in chaos. If the 
buildup in greenhouse gases continues unabated, cli- 
mate models show that temperature rises in the interior 
of the continent, specifically the corn-growing Midwest 
and the Great Plains, will be disproportionately great. If 
these models are close to the mark, it may be only a 
matter of time until rising temperatures begin to affect 
the capacity of the United States to supply grain. 22 

Another important question, of course, is how much 
the United States can raise land productivity above cur- 
rent levels. With wheat, the rise in yields has slowed 
markedly during the last decade. (See Chapter 6.) Corn 
yields have continued to rise, but are reaching a level 
where it may be difficult to sustain steady increases. The 
bottom line is that U.S. farmers could produce some- 
what more than they now do on a sustainable basis if a 
market for their output existed. 

World grain exports grew rapidly during most of the 
last 34 years, levelling off only during the last decade. 
(See Figure 8-2.) To some extent, this is the result of 
limited growth in import demands. 23 

Thus far this analysis has focused on grain, but China 
is also importing growing amounts of vegetable oil, 
sugar, and cotton. As noted in Chapter 3, China is 
expected to import 3.5 million of the 9.3 million tons 
of vegetable oil it consumes in 1995. Dependence on 
imports as a share of consumption has climbed from 

Competition for Grain 113 

Million Tons 

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 8-2. World Grain Exports, 1950-94 

zero in 1984 to 38 percent in 1995. 24 

Sugar consumption in China, which has one of the 
world's lowest levels of per capita consumption, is going 
up by 6 percent per year. Imports are also climbing. As 
recently as 1991, China was a net exporter of sugar. 
Within three years, the nation went from being more 
than self-sufficient to depending on the outside world 
for 17 percent of its sugar. 25 

A similar situation exists for cotton. As recently as 
1987, China was a major net exporter of cotton. In 
1995, it is expected to import 3.2 million bales net 
against total use of 20 million bales. This 16 percent of 
consumption is expected to rise steadily in the years 
ahead as the growth in China's textile industry contin- 
ues to outstrip that of the cotton harvest. 26 

Anyone following commodity markets has to be im- 
pressed with the extent to which decisions by China to 


import are affecting these markets. Typical of these is a 
statement appearing in the Wall Street Journal in late 
1994: "World sugar prices surged to their highest levels 
in more than four years as rumor that China is poised to 
make a major purchase raised the prospect of even 
greater demand and tighter supplies." 27 

China's heavy cotton imports in early 1995 have 
helped push world cotton prices to the highest level 
since the U.S. Civil War. Despite a record world soy- 
bean harvest and the largest year-to-year increase ever in 
the world crop, vegetable oil prices actually rose follow- 
ing that harvest, in large part because of China's record 
imports. With such high world cotton and vegetable oil 
prices, farmers everywhere will be tempted to shift re- 
sources from grain into these crops, making it even more 
difficult to expand the world grain harvest. U.S. farmers 
expanded the area planted to cotton in 1995 by 18 per- 
cent, making it the largest planting in a generation. 28 

Even as China is facing the potential need for massive 
imports of grain, many other countries are in a some- 
what similar situation. Ten of the more populous devel- 
oping countries that are projected to add substantial 
numbers of people over the next four decades are in- 
cluded in Table 8-3. Allowing only for increases in con- 
sumption associated with population growth, which 
means no improvement in diet, many of them will expe- 
rience a doubling or tripling of demand. Among those 
projected to triple their populations are Iran, Nigeria, 
and Ethiopia. Pakistan's population is projected to 
nearly triple. Countries that are projected to double in- 
clude Bangladesh and Egypt. 29 

On the supply side, almost all these countries face 
land and water constraints, some of them severe. None- 
theless, it is assumed that production in each of these 

Competition for Grain 115 

Table 8-3. Grain Imports for Selected Countries^ 1990 > 
With Projections for 2030 

Country 1990 2030 




- 45 



- 9 



- 12 



- 32 



- 26 



- 21 

Ethiopia & Eritrea 


- 9 


- 15 



- 4 



- 19 

SOURCE: See endnote 29. 

countries will increase by roughly half or more and, in 
some countries, that it will more than double. Yet huge 
deficits are in prospect. In 1990, this group of 10 coun- 
tries imported 32 million tons of grain, roughly one sixth 
of the world total. For comparison purposes, collectively 
they imported only slightly more than Japan did. By 
2030, these countries — assuming no improvement in 
diet — will need to import 190 million tons of grain. This 
is six times the amount they import today and nearly 
equal to total world grain exports in 1994. 30 

The point of these projections is that competition for 
grain imports in the years ahead is likely to intensify 
dramatically even without China's emergence as a mas- 
sive importer. This suggests that the world grain market 
soon will be converted from a buyer's to a seller's mar- 
ket. From mid-century onward, exporting countries al- 



ways seemed to be competing for markets that were 
never quite large enough. This buyer's market has been 
dominant except for a brief period in the mid-seventies, 
when grain prices soared following a secretive Soviet 
wheat purchase when Moscow decided to offset a har- 
vest shortfall with imports rather than belt-tightening. 31 

Not only have grain exporters faced a buyer's market, 
but the strong competition among exporting countries 
to produce ever more efficiently lowered the real price of 
grain substantially from mid-century through the early 
nineties. Except for the brief period in the mid-seven- 
ties, the real price of wheat and rice has been declining 
throughout this period. (See Figure 8-3 .) 32 

This has created an ideal environment for alleviating 
hunger. Even low-income countries with limited foreign 
exchange were faced with a gradually declining outlay 
for grain imports. Fixed budgets for food aid provided 



(1987 dollars) 

Source: See endnote 32 




A A lUi 

^ — /\| w\ 

-^ >*VV V Rice 


1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 

Figure 8-3. World Wheat and Rice Prices Per Ton, 1950-94 

Competition for Grain 117 

for steadily growing quantities as the real price declined. 
Unfortunately, however, little progress has been made 
in ridding the world of hunger. 

If this buyer's market is converted into a seller's mar- 
ket, importing countries will soon find themselves com- 
peting vigorously for supplies of grain that never seem 
adequate. In such a world, the politics of scarcity will 
replace the politics of surplus, bringing the risk of grain 
export embargoes in countries trying to control infla- 
tionary food price rises. 


Facing Scarcity 


Entering a New Era 

As the world progresses through the nineties, each year 
brings additional evidence that we are entering a new 
era, one quite different from the last four decades. An 
age of relative food abundance is being replaced by one 
of scarcity. As the one fifth of humanity who live in 
China seek to join the affluent one fifth already living 
high on the food chain, the transition into the new era 
will be accelerated. 

There is no historical precedent by which to assess the 
effects on the world food economy of China's projected 
emergence as a heavy importer of grain. Although the 13 
million people currently added to China's population 
each year are expanding the demand for food, most of 
the growth comes from the extraordinary rise in in- 
comes. Since the economic reforms were launched in 


1978, China's economy has expanded fourfold. In eco- 
nomic terms, there are now four Chinas where there was 
only one 17 years ago. 1 

If China continues on its current industrial track, it 
will reach a level of industrialization by 2030 similar to 
that today in its more industrialized neighbors — Japan, 
South Korea, and Taiwan. Its dependence on grain im- 
ports would also be similar, for reasons outlined in ear- 
lier chapters. 

China's leaders publicly argue that they will not 
become dependent on imported grain, that China will 
always feed itself. But this is highly unlikely. They argue 
that they will protect their cropland from conversion to 
nonfarm uses, but it is difficult to imagine any country 
making a greater effort to do this than Japan, yet that 
nation has lost half of its grainland since 1950. Some 
argue that China will increase the productivity of its land 
so much that it will not have to import grain. But 
China's yields are already quite high by international 
standards — with rice yields close to those of Japan and 
wheat yields well above those of the United States. The 
bottom line is that if China continues its rapid industri- 
alization, it will inevitably be forced to import heavily to 
satisfy future food demand. 2 

Why do China's leaders stoudy maintain that they 
will never become dependent on imported grain? Per- 
haps they genuinely believe that the phenomenal rises in 
land productivity that followed the economic reforms of 
1978 will somehow be sustained indefinitely into the 
future. Or it could be that they are simply practicing a 
form of denial. For the Chinese who barely survived the 
Great Famine, it must be unbelievably difficult to accept 
the insecurity that is associated with becoming heavily 
dependent on the outside world for food. 

Although the projections in Chapter 7 show China 

Entering a New Era 123 

importing vast amounts, movements of grain on this 
scale are never likely to materialize simply because they, 
along with climbing import needs for other countries, 
will overwhelm the export capacity of the small handful 
of countries with an exportable surplus. As China's 
grain imports rise, they are likely to drive prices upward, 
making it increasingly costly to import on the scale pro- 
jected. The price rise associated with the growing imbal- 
ance could lead to economic disruption everywhere and, 
in low-income countries, to political instability that 
would dwarf the effects of the oil price hikes in the sev- 
enties. There are, after all, substitutes for oil. But there 
are no substitutes for food. 

China can reduce its growing dependence on im- 
ported foods in a number of ways. One is to stabilize 
population before it reaches the peak of 1 .66 billion pro- 
jected for 2045. If, for example, the one-child policy 
were now extended to minority groups, which make up 
a substantial share of China's 1.2 billion people, and if 
incentives to adhere to this goal overall were strength- 
ened, this could help lower the level at which population 
will peak before it begins to decline. 3 

Beijing can also alter its industrial policies in a way 
that will save cropland. At present, it is simply adopting 
the western industrial model, emphasizing, for instance, 
the development of an automobile-centered transporta- 
tion system that will inevitably consume vast amounts of 
cropland. Alternatively, China could concentrate on de- 
veloping a modern national rail transport system for 
both freight and passengers that would be state-of-the- 
art and would need only a fraction of the land. For pas- 
sengers, the bike-to-train commute system that is most 
highly developed in Japan and the Netherlands provides 
an appropriate model. 

In coping with water scarcity, there are innumerable 


opportunities for increasing efficiency. The most impor- 
tant single step here is to begin charging the full cost of 
supplying water, abandoning the subsidies that lead to 
wasteful use. Even in Beijing, where water scarcity 
threatens future development, urban dwellers get water 
at a fraction of its real cost. 4 

One senior Chinese official has publicly raised doubts 
as to whether it is in the country's interest to keep mov- 
ing up the food chain. Such questions notwithstanding, 
societies move down the food chain only when they are 
forced to do so by food rationing or by rising food 
prices. 5 

It is an accident of history that China is turning to 
world markets just when the growing world demand for 
food is colliding with the sustainable yield of oceanic 
fisheries, the sustainable yield of aquifers in key food- 
producing regions, and the limits of available crop varie- 
ties to respond to additional applications of fertilizer. 
The net effect of these constraints is slower growth in 
world food production. 

In the past, rising prices have typically spurred greater 
growth in output. If seafood prices rose, then fishers 
would simply invest in more trawlers and expand the 
catch. That approach today would only hasten the col- 
lapse of oceanic fisheries. Before, when grain prices 
went up, farmers would invest more in irrigation wells. 
Unfortunately, in much of the world today that response 
will just accelerate the depletion of aquifers. In the past, 
rising grain prices stimulated farmers to apply larger 
amounts of fertilizer. Today, using more fertilizer in 
many countries has little effect on production. 

Neither fishers nor farmers have been able to keep up 
with the growth in population in recent years. The shift 
from an era in which both were expanding output much 

Entering a New Era 12 5 

faster than population to one in which both are trailing 
population growth was well under way before China's 
prospective emergence as a large importer. But as China 
turns to the outside world for more grain, it will acceler- 
ate the transition from an era of surpluses to one of scar- 

After four decades of spectacular progress in expand- 
ing world food production, many people thought that 
the steady growth in both oceanic and land-based food 
production would continue more or less indefinitely. 
Among those making this assumption were those re- 
sponsible for making world food supply and demand 
projections at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organiza- 
tion and at the World Bank. One result of the simple 
extrapolation exercise they engage in is that they yield 
"no problem" projections, thus lulling the world into a 
false sense of complacency. 6 

A convenient way of comparing the old and the new 
era is simply to look at the data from 1950 to 1990, 
which roughly brackets the old era, with the projections 
for 1990 to 2030, which is the era policymakers must 
now focus on. The fish catch, for example, grew from 22 
million tons in 1950 to 100 million tons in 1990, a 4.6- 
fold increase. During the next 40 years, it is not ex- 
pected to increase at all. (See Table 9-1 .) 7 

With grain output, production went from 631 million 
tons in 1950 to 1,780 million tons in 1990, an increase 
of 1,149 million tons. During most of this period, the 
growth in grain production outstripped that of popula- 
tion, boosting per capita grain output by some 40 per- 
cent between 1950 and 1984. Since then, growth in 
grain production has slowed. 8 

In contrast to the last four decades, when farmers 
boosted output by some 28 million tons a year, our pro- 


Table 9-1. World Seafood Catch and Grain Output, 
1950-90, With Projections to 2030 

Change Change 
Commodity 1950 1990 2030 1950-90 1990-2030 

(million tons) 

Seafood Catch 22 100 100 +78 

Grain Output 631 1/780 2,149 +1,149 +369 
SOURCE: See endnote 7. 

jections show grain production growing only 369 mil- 
lion tons in the next four decades, or 9 million tons a 
year. This projection takes into account the diminishing 
response of crop yields to additional fertilizer use; the 
growing scarcity of fresh water; the shrinking backlog of 
unused agricultural technology; the social disintegration 
occurring in some countries, mostly in Africa; and the 
heavy loss of cropland occurring in Asia. 

The projection assumes slower growth in production 
almost everywhere, and in some countries — notably 
China — actual declines. If grain production is declining 
in China — a country that now accounts for one fifth of 
the world grain harvest — by roughly 1 percent a year, as 
projected, it will take a substantial gain elsewhere just to 
offset this loss. 

Four harvests into the new era, there is ample reason 
to take these projections seriously. Since 1990, there has 
been no growth in the world grain harvest. Indeed, the 
1994 grain harvest is actually smaller than that of 1990. 
Similarly, since 1990, the world fish catch has not in- 
creased at all. While four years does not determine a 

Entering a New Era 127 

trend for the next four decades, this lack of expansion is 
a matter of concern. The projected growth in grain pro- 
duction from 1990 to 2030 of 9 million tons per year is 
less than a third of the 28-million-ton annual growth 
between 1950 and 1990. Nonetheless, during the last 
four years, even this has not been realized. 9 

Between 1987 and 1994, world carryover stocks of 
grain were reduced from an all-time high of 465 milion 
tons to 298 million tons, dropping stocks to the lowest 
level in 20 years. Without the addition to world grain 
supplies of these nearly 24 million tons of grain per year, 
grain prices would likely have risen sharply. 10 

The new era we are moving into will be so different 
that many of our traditional reference points will be lost. 
(See Table 9-2.) The rise in grain output per person and 
seafood catch per person that has been under way since 
mid-century will be replaced by declines of both. In- 
stead of dropping in real terms, food prices will be rising, 
as we already see with seafood. Rice scarcity is likely to 
be next simply because its production is constrained by 
the availability not only of land but also of fresh water. 
China's rice harvest in 1994 was 8 percent less than in 
1990 not because of failed technology, but because of 
the heavy loss of riceland in its southern provinces. Price 
rises for rice will probably be followed by those for wheat 
and then other grains. 11 

The era of scarcity that lies ahead is currently most 
evident with seafood, where human demand is pressing 
against the sustainable yield of oceanic fisheries. In re- 
cent years, seafood prices have been rising by 4 percent a 
year in real terms. 12 

Thirty years ago in the United States, poor people 
who could not afford meat ate fish. Today seafood costs 
more than most types of meat. What is happening to 


Table 9-2. Food and Economic Indicators in Two Eras 


Economic Era 

Environmental Era 

Seafood catch 
per person 



Grain production 
per person 



Food prices 



Grain market 

buyer's market 

seller's market 

Politics of food 

dominated by 

dominated by 

Income per person 


may decline for much 
of the world 

SOURCE: See endnote 11. 

seafood prices is instructive as it provides a glimpse of 
how future scarcity can affect prices of other foodstuffs. 
With seafood prices, we are seeing the economic mani- 
festations of our failure to stabilize population before 
reaching the limits of the ocean's carrying capacity. Un- 
fortunately, we may see price rises for other foodstuffs as 
similar imbalances between supply and demand begin 
to develop. 

In effect, the era from 1950 to 1990 was shaped by the 
pursuit of economic growth, including — significantly — 
record growth in world food production. During most of 
this period, there were no serious natural constraints on 
the growth in the seafood catch or in grain production, 
only economic ones. 

The environmental era, however, will be character- 
ized by a collision between economic trends and the 

Entering a New Era 129 

earth's many natural limits, such as the sustainable 
catch of oceanic fisheries or the sustainable yield of 
aquifers. Increasingly, economic trends and, indeed, the 
evolution of the global economy will be shaped by envi- 
ronmental issues, such as the need to use water more 
efficiently or the need to stabilize climate. 

One consequence of the increasingly frequent colli- 
sions between growing human demands and limits on 
the earth's natural systems is likely to be a further slow- 
down in world economic growth. (See Table 9-3.) Al- 
though the food-producing sector is a small share of the 
global economy, it is so basic that any difficulties in ade- 
quately expanding output are likely to cause economic 
disruption and political instability. 13 

A review of global economic growth since mid-cen- 
tury shows growth peaking during the sixties at an an- 
nual rate of 5.2 percent, then dropping in each of the 
next two decades. During the first four years of this dec- 
ade, it has averaged only 1.4 percent, slightly less than 
population growth. This means that thus far during this 

Table 9-3. World Economic Growth by Decade, Total 
and Per Person 

Annual Growth 
Decade Annual Growth Per Person 














1990-94 (prel.) 



SOURCE: See endnote 13. 


decade, income per person has actually declined 
slightly. 14 

At issue is how the world economy will be affected if 
the growth in food production continues to lose mo- 
mentum. With the continuing loss of cropland not only 
in China but throughout Asia, a densely populated re- 
gion that contains at least half the world's people, it will 
become progressively more difficult to achieve rapid 
growth in world food output. 

The levelling off of the world fish catch and the loss of 
momentum in grain production overall could further 
undermine economic expansion. If it does, the world 
could end this decade with an actual decline in income 
per person, following the path forged by Africa during 
the eighties. 15 


Priorities in an Era of 

When Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, she launched 
the modern environmental movement, a transformation 
that would envelop the entire world. Her warning of the 
threat that residual pesticides, such as DDT, posed to 
bird populations led to quick actions and gave environ- 
mental concerns a pollution focus, one that has domi- 
nated the movement ever since. Pollution of air and 
water continue to be important issues, particularly be- 
cause of the effect of pollutants on human health. But an 
even more fundamental concern — the earth's capacity 
to produce enough food to satisfy our expanding de- 
mand — is now emerging as the overriding environmen- 
tal issue as the world approaches the twenty-first cen- 
The loss of food security promises to become the de- 


fining focus of the global environmental threat. This is 
most evident with the oceanic food system, where 
human demand is pressing against the limits of natural 
fisheries. These limits mean that the seafood catch per 
person will shrink each year as long as population 
growth continues. 

As noted in earlier chapters, spreading water scarcity, 
the limits of available crop varieties to effectively use 
more fertilizer, and the lack of fertile new land to culti- 
vate are combining to slow the growth in food produc- 
tion on land. After expanding much faster than popula- 
tion from 1950 to 1984, grain production has since 
fallen behind population growth, dropping nearly 1 per- 
cent per year. There are still opportunities to expand 
grain production, but none promise the quantum jumps 
in output that came with earlier advances, such as the 
hybridization of corn or the growth in irrigation, from 
mid-century forward. 1 

Rising prices, already dramatically evident with sea- 
food, are likely to spread to rice, wheat, and other food 
staples, making survival an issue for the world's poor. At 
the national level, food scarcity will affect economic sta- 
bility and, for some governments, perhaps political sur- 

For the first time, an environmental event — the colli- 
sion of expanding human demand with some of the 
earth's natural limits — will have an economic impact 
that affects the entire world. Rising food prices will 
touch all of us one way or another. 

As the world contemplates the prospect of scarcity, it 
must also face the issue of distribution. As long as the 
pie was expanding more rapidly than population was 
growing, political leaders could always urge the poor to 
be patient because eventually their share would also rise. 

Priorities in an Era of Scarcity 133 

If the food supply is not expanding at all, as with sea- 
food, or much more slowly than population, as with 
grain, the question of how the pie is divided becomes a 
much more immediate political issue. 

One way of distributing scarce resources is to let the 
market do its job. Indeed, given the economic reforms in 
the former Soviet Union and China, reliance on the 
market to distribute food is now nearly worldwide. 
Whenever demand outruns supply, the price rises, re- 
ducing demand while encouraging additional supply. 
From a purely economic standpoint, the market does a 
good job of balancing demand and supply and distribut- 
ing food. But from a social point of view, rising prices of 
food can quickly become life-threatening for the world's 
poorest. For the Third World's rural landless and its 
shantytown residents who already may spend 70 percent 
of their income on food, even a modest rise in food 
prices can threaten survival. China's prospective emer- 
gence as a massive importer of food may well force the 
world to address this long-ignored issue of distribution. 

If grain prices rise in the years ahead, as now seems 
likely, they could create an unprecedented degree of in- 
security. No economic indicator is more politically sen- 
sitive than this one. At the international level, climbing 
food prices could lead to potentially unmanageable in- 
flation, abrupt shifts in currency exchange rates, and 
widespread political instability. This, in turn, could 
jeopardize the security of investments in food-importing 
countries such as China, Egypt, and Mexico. 

In the new era, political leaders will be called on to 
govern under unfamiliar conditions. Their understand- 
ing of the world, their values, and their priorities were 
shaped in a far different age. With the new era comes the 
need for different priorities in the use of public re- 


sources — priorities that recognize food scarcity rather 
than military aggression as the principal threat to secu- 

In an integrated economy where expanding human 
demand for food is colliding with the earth's natural lim- 
its, population growth anywhere limits the ability of 
people everywhere to consume more grain. Contrary to 
popular opinion, it will not be in the devastation of 
poverty-stricken Somalia or Haiti but in the booming 
economy of China that we will see the inevitable colli- 
sion between the expanding demand for food and the 
limits of some of the earth's most basic natural systems. 

In addition to raising food prices, the failure to arrest 
the deterioration of our basic life-support systems could 
bring economic growth to a halt, dropping incomes and 
food purchasing power throughout the world. It could 
lead to political unrest and a swelling flow of hungry 
migrants across national borders. Rising food prices and 
the associated economic and political disruptions within 
China could bring that nation's economic miracle to a 
premature end. 

The new era calls for food carrying-capacity assess- 
ments on a country-by-country basis, much like the one 
done here for China. Existing information on cropland 
area, future availability of water for irrigation, and the 
potential contribution to grain production of existing 
agricultural technologies can provide the information 
governments need to project their own food production 
potential and measure it against their long-term needs. 
What many will discover is what Japan, South Korea, 
and Taiwan have learned: once population density 
reaches a certain point, further growth in numbers un- 
dermines the prospect for raising food consumption per 
person from indigenous resources. Countries lacking 

Priorities in an Era of Scarcity 13 5 

foreign exchange may find that continuous population 
growth will foreclose the options for diversifying diets 
and raising consumption. 

The European Union, consisting of some 15 coun- 
tries and containing 360 million people, provides a 
model for the rest of the world of an environmentally 
sustainable food/population balance. Europe is the first 
region to reach zero population growth. At the same 
time, movement up the food chain has also come to a 
halt as diets have become saturated with livestock prod- 
ucts. The result is that Europe's grain consumption, 
which has not increased for close to a decade, has stabil- 
ized — and at a level that is within the region's carrying 
capacity. (See Figure 10-1.) Indeed, there is a potential 
for a small but sustainable export surplus of grain for the 
indefinite future. 2 

Million Tons 


Figure 10-1. Grain Production and Consumption in the 
European Community, 1960-94 


North America is the other region where grain con- 
sumption is currently below sustainable production. But 
the exportable surplus from these two regions will be 
less and less adequate to meet projected import needs 
elsewhere in the world. If countries cannot boost con- 
sumption per person from their indigenous resources, 
they may not be able to do so at all, given the likely 
competition for importable supplies. 3 

In the new era, by far the most urgent need is to stabi- 
lize world population as soon as possible. Based on na- 
tional carrying capacity assessments, some countries 
may discover that the goals of the World Population 
Plan of Action adopted in Cairo in September 1994 are 
not sufficiently ambitious for them — that if they are to 
raise consumption levels, they may have to stabilize pop- 
ulation size even sooner than envisaged in the plan. 4 

Closely parallelling the need to stabilize world popu- 
lation as soon as possible is the need to protect the re- 
source base on which agriculture depends: soils, aquif- 
ers, and the climate system. In some agricultural 
regions, the thin layer of topsoil that accumulated over 
long periods of geological time is being gradually lost 
through erosion, undermining the inherent productivity 
of the land. In a world where the demand for food is 
beginning to press against the limits of supply, every ton 
of topsoil lost diminishes the food supply of the next 
generation. It is now clearly in the interest of the interna- 
tional community to devise a plan to stabilize soils — to 
reduce the loss from erosion below the rate of new soil 
formation through natural processes. In effect, there is a 
need for the agronomic equivalent of the World Popula- 
tion Plan of Action. 

The depletion of aquifers by overpumping is a much 
more contemporary phenomenon than soil erosion, 

Priorities in an Era of Scarcity 13 7 

since it depends on quantities of energy for pumping 
that are available only in the modern era. Aquifer deple- 
tion is as undesirable and costly over the long term as it 
is widespread. Now common in the world's major food- 
producing regions, it is leading to falling water tables, 
higher pumping costs, and a misleading sense of food 
security, since a sizable fraction of today's harvest is 
based on the unsustainable use of water. 5 

The first priority is to determine the extent of aquifer 
depletion. But even while this is being done, the intro- 
duction of water marketing — pricing water at full cost — 
would reduce wasteful use and encourage investment in 
water-efficient technologies. Water marketing will also 
spur research that can lead to more water-efficient tech- 
nologies and practices. Avoiding acute water scarcity 
depends on investing in water efficiency on a scale com- 
parable to the investment in energy efficiency in the 
mid-seventies, and thus buying more time to stabilize 

Conserving both soil and water depends on reversing 
the deforestation of the planet. If the goal is to reduce 
rainfall runoff, and thereby help increase aquifer re- 
charge, and to stabilize soils, there is no alternative to 
planting trees. There is also a need to protect cropland 
from nonfarm uses. As noted for China, one of the prin- 
cipal threats to the world's cropland is the trend toward 
automobile-centered transportation systems: Not only 
does the evolution of an auto-centered transport system 
lead to the extensive paving of cropland, it also facili- 
tates land-consuming urban sprawl. 

Few things affect food production as much as changes 
in climate. World agriculture as it exists today is keyed 
to a climate system that has been remarkably stable for 
the last 10,000 years. Any changes in this will disrupt 


agriculture. The difficulties that the world's farmers are 
experiencing in trying to keep pace with population will 
intensify if they also have to cope with the disruptions of 
climate change. 

With world carryover stocks of grain at their lowest 
level in 20 years and with the prospect of spreading food 
scarcity, an inventory is needed of the various reserves 
that can be tapped to alleviate scarcity and buy time to 
stabilize population. The most easily tapped reserve is 
the cropland in the United States and Europe that is 
idled under supply management programs for farm 
commodities, which are designed to avoid surpluses. 
(See Chapter 8.) If this land were returned to produc- 
tion, it could boost the world grain harvest by 2 percent, 
enough to cover the additional demand of world popula- 
tion growth for perhaps 15 months. If, in addition, the 
share of the U.S. Conservation Reserve Program land of 
14 million hectares that could be farmed sustainably 
with appropriate soil-conserving farming practices were 
again plowed, it could conceivably boost the world grain 
harvest by enough to cover another 12 months of world 
population growth. 6 

Another source of land to produce food is the fields 
used to grow nonfood products, such as tobacco. If the 5 
million hectares of cropland with tobacco growing on it 
were switched to grain, assuming the average world 
yield of 2.4 tons per hectare, it would provide enough 
grain to support the growth in world population growth 
for nearly six months. 7 

Almost as large a potential source of food is the 1 .4 
million hectares of highly productive U.S. cornland (8 
tons per hectare) used to produce annually the 1 1 mil- 
lion tons of corn that in turn produce roughly 1 billion 
gallons of ethanol for use as an automotive fuel. Making 

Priorities in an Era of Scarcity 139 

this grain available for human consumption could cover 
four months of world population growth. 8 

The area planted to cotton could also be reduced! If 
consumers could be persuaded to replace half of the cot- 
ton clothing they buy with clothes made from synthetic 
fibers, some 9 million hectares of land would be freed 
up, providing enough grain for 1 1 months of world pop- 
ulation growth. China, the world's leading cotton con- 
sumer, is already investing heavily in the manufacture of 
synthetic fibers on a scale that could eventually lower 
demand for cotton. 9 

Yet another source of additional grain is that which is 
wasted because of faulty storage or transportation. 
There are no good estimates on how much grain could 
realistically be saved or what improved storage would 
cost worldwide, but the gains are potentially much 
larger than some of those just cited. If grain prices rise, 
investment in improved grain storage facilities is likely to 

By far the largest food reserve is the 37 percent of the 
world grain harvest, some 630 million tons in 1994, that 
is used to produce livestock and poultry products for 
human consumption. This includes meat of various 
kinds, milk and milk products (butter, cheese, yogurt, 
and ice cream), eggs, and fish from aquaculture. 10 

To some degree, market forces will tap this reserve as 
rising grain prices push up prices of livestock products, 
reducing their consumption. Unfortunately, the price 
level at which a substantial reduction occurs is so high 
that it could force food consumption among millions of 
the world's poor below the survival level. Rationing the 
consumption of livestock products in the more affluent 
societies would free up grain without leading to dra- 
matic price rises. 


The same reduction in consumption could be 
achieved by imposing a tax on consumption of livestock 
products, one that would be similar to those that gov- 
ernments put on alcoholic beverages and cigarettes. 
Such a tax would affect the more affluent not only in 
industrial countries but in developing ones as well, since 
China is now the world's largest consumer of red meat. 
: If the 630 million tons of grain used for feed were 
reduced by 10 percent, by whatever means, it would 
free up 63 million tons of grain for consumption as 
food, enough to cover world population growth for 
28 months. Unprecedented and unpopular though a 
livestock-products tax would be, it could be the price of 
global economic stability in an era of scarcity. 11 

Beyond this, an international food reserve is urgently 
needed — one that would acquire stocks when prices are 
low in order to release them when they are higher. In a 
world of food scarcity and soaring prices, the economic 
instability associated with inadequate reserves could 
lead to political turmoil and the downfall of govern- 
ments. In an integrated world economy, political stabil- 
ity is essential to economic progress. 

Overall, there is a need for much greater investment in 
agricultural research, although not because of the likeli- 
hood of another breakthrough like the development of 
hybrid corn or the discovery of chemical fertilizer that 
will lead to a huge gain in world food output. But in a 
world of food scarcity, every technological advance that 
helps expand production, however small, is important. 
Each one buys a little more time with which to stabilize 

In the new era, achieving a balance between the sup- 
ply and demand for food will increasingly depend on 
adjustments on the demand side. The bottom line is that 

Priorities in an Era of Scarcity 141 

achieving a humane balance between food and people is 
now more in the hands of family planners than farmers. 
For. example, with oceanic fisheries now pushed to the 
limit, arresting the decline in the seafood catch per per- 
son now depends on stabilizing our numbers. 

Time is not on our side. The world has waited too 
long to stabilize population. The decline in seafood sup- 
ply per person and in grain output per person is already 
under way. This is not something that might happen. It 
is happening. Unfortunately, these trends are defining 
characteristics of the new era. 

Effectively addressing these threats to our future will 
take a massive mobilization of resources, both financial 
and political. If we care about the future, we have no 
choice but to launch a worldwide effort to stabilize our 
life-support systems — soils, fisheries, aquifers, and for- 
ests — and the climate system. Historically, the only 
comparable mobilization of financial resources and po- 
litical leadership was that during World War II. Without 
such an effort to deal with these new threats to our secu- 
rity, we will leave our children a world without hope. 
China's prospective emergence as a massive grain im- 
porter is a wake-up call — one that will force us to ad- 
dress issues we have long neglected. 

Leaders are judged by whether or not they respond to 
the great issues of their time. For our generation, the 
overriding issue is whether we can reestablish a stable 
relationship between our numbers and aspirations on 
the one hand and the earth's natural support systems on 
the other. Unless we act quickly and decisively, neither 
history nor our children will judge us kindly. 


Chapter 1. Overview: The Wake-Up Call 

1. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research 
Service (ERS), "Production, Supply, and Demand View" (elec- 
tronic database), Washington, D.C., November 1994. 

2. Ibid. 

3. Figure 1-1 from ibid., with 1950-59 figures from USD A, ERS, 
"World Grain Database" (unpublished printout), Washington, 
D.C., April 1989. 

4. USDA, op. cit. 1; USDA, op. cit. note 3; U.S. Bureau of the 
Census, as published in Francis Urban and Ray Nightingale, 
World Population by Country and Region, 1950-90 and Projections to 
2050 (Washington, D.C.: USDA, ERS, 1993). 

5. Patrick E. Tyler, "China Planning People's Car to Put Masses 
Behind Wheel," New York Times, September 22, 1994; Nicholas 
D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, China Wakes (New York: Ran- 
dom House, 1994). 

6. USDA, op. cit. note 1, with updates from USDA, ERS, "World 
Agriculture Production," Washington, D.C., March 1995. 

144 Notes (Chapter 1) 

7. Irrigated area from USDA, ERS, "China Situation and Outlook 
Series," Washington, D.C., July 1993, and from U.N. Food and 
Agriculture Organization (FAO), Production Yearbooks (Rome: 
various years); Professor Xu Zhifang, President, Chinese Na- 
tional Committee on Irrigation and Drainage, speech for the 
World Water Council-Interim Founding Committee, Montreal, 
Canada, March 31, 1995. 

8. Figure 1-2 from USD A, op. cit. note 1, and from USDA, op. 
cit. note 3. 

9. Figure 1-3 from USDA, op. cit. note 1, from USDA, op. cit. 
note 3, and from Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 4. 

10. Per capita figures from USDA, op. cit. note 1, and Bureau of the 
Census, op. cit. note 4. 

1 1 . Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 4; population of Beijing from 
United Nations, Estimates and Projections of Urban, Rural, and 
City Populations 1950-2025: The 1982 Assessment (New York: 

12. Kristof and WuDunn, op. cit. note 5; International Monetary 
Fund, World Economic Outlook October 1994 (Washington, D.C.: 

13. Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 4. 

14. FAO, Food Balance Sheet 1988 (Rome: 1989). 

15. USDA, op. cit. note 1; Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 4. 

16. Sheila Tefrt, "A Shrinking Rice Bowl in China: Rising Food 
Prices Spur Unease," Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 
1995; Gao Anming, "Experts Note Reasons for Hikes in Grain 
Prices," China Daily, January 6, 1995; Martin Wolf, "Zooming 
in on the Threat of Inflation," Financial Times, November 7, 
1994; "China to Buy More Wheat, Corn From US, Traders 
Say ," Journal of Commerce, January 19, 1995; "China Restricts 
Trading in Shanghai Rice Futures," Journal of Commerce, Octo- 
ber 26, 1994; Joseph Kahn, "China Fails to Curb Its Runaway 
Growth," Wall Street Journal, January 3, 1995. 

17. World Bank, China: Strategies for Reducing Poverty in the 1990 's 
(Washington, D.C.: 1992). 

18. Peter Hannam, "China Seen Facing Choice: Inflation or 
Unemployment," Journal of Commerce, September 27, 1994. 

19. USDA, "Grain: World Markets and Trade," Washington, 
D.C., various issues. 

20. Population Reference Bureau, 1994 World Population Data Sheet 
(Washington, D.C.: 1994). 

Notes (Chapter 2) 145 

Chapter 2. Another Half-Billion 

1. Figure 2-1 from U.S. Bureau of the Census, as published in 
Francis Urban and Ray Nightingale, World Population by Coun- 
try and Region, 1950-90 and Projections to 2050 (Washington, 
D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Re- 
search Service (ERS), 1993); 1900 world population from 
United Nations, The Future Growth of World Population (Rome: 

2. Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 1. 

3. Grainland per capita calculated with population from Bureau of 
the Census, op. cit. note 1, and grain area from USDA, ERS, 
"Production, Supply, and Demand View" (electronic data- 
base), Washington D.C., November 1994; grain trade data from 

4. Population from Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 1. 

5. Susan Cotts Watkins and Jane Menken, "Famines in Historical 
Perspective," Population and Development Review, December 

6. Ibid. 

7. Figure 2-2 from United Nations, Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, 
February 1994. 

8. Figure 2-3 from U.S. Bureau of the Census, Center for Interna- 
tional Research, Suitland, Md., private communication, Febru- 
ary 6, 1995. 

9. John R. Bermingham, "China's Population Puzzle," Colorado 
Population Coalition, Denver, Colo., Fall 1994. 

10. Michael S. Teitelbaum, "The Population Threat," Foreign Af- 
fairs , Winter 1992/93. 

1 1 . India's population from Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 1 . 

12. Aaron Segal, An Atlas of International Migration (London: Hanz 
Zell Publishers, 1993). 

13. Zha Ruichuan and Qiao Xiachun, "A Study of the Age Struc- 
ture of China's Population," China Population Today, December 
1992; Steve Mufson, "Chinese Leader Presses for 'One Couple, 
One Child,' " Washington Post, March 21, 1995. 

14. Mufson, op. cit. note 13. 

15. Population projection from Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 
1; Figure 2-4 from Zha and Qiao, op. cit. note 13. 

16. Carl Haub, "China's Fertility Drop Lowers World Growth 
Rate," Population Today, June 1993. 

17. Ibid.; Carl Haub, Population Reference Bureau, Washington, 
D.C., private communication, April 19, 1995. 

18. Jiang quoted in Mufson, op. cit. note 13. 

146 Notes (Chapter 3) 

Chapter 3. Moving Up the Food Chain 

1. Nicholas D. Kristoff, "Riddle of China: Repression as Standard 
of Living Soars," New York Times, September 7, 1993. 

2. Population from Population Reference Bureau (PRB), World 
Population Data Sheet 1994 (Washington, D.C.: 1994); econ- 
omy from International Monetary Fund, World Economic Out- 
look, October 1994 (Washington, D.C.: 1994). 

3. U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Food Balance 
Sheet 1985 (Rome: 1986). 

4. Table 3-1 from FAO, Food Production Yearbook 1993 (Rome: 

5. Ibid.; energy ratio from United Nations, Energy Statistics Year- 
book 1992 (New York: 1994). 

6. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research 
Service (ERS), "Livestock and Poultry: World Markets and 
Trade," Washington, D.C., October 1994. 

7. USDA, ERS, "Production, Supply, and Demand View" (elec- 
tronic database), Washington, D.C., November 1994, with up- 
dates from USDA, op. cit. note 6; meat consumption from 
FAO, op. cit. note 4. 

8. Figure 3-1 from USDA, op. cit. note 7, with updates from 
USDA, op. cit. note 6. 

9. USDA, op. cit. note 7; USDA, op. cit. note 6. 

10. Grain-to-poultry ratio derived from Robert V. Bishop et al., The 
World Poultry Market — Government Intervention and Multilateral 
Policy Reform (Washington, D.C.: USDA, 1990); grain-to-pork 
ratio from Leland Southard, Livestock and Poultry Situation 
and Outlook Staff, ERS, USDA, Washington, D.C., private 
communication, April 27, 1992; grain-to-beef ratio based on 
Allen Baker, Feed Situation and Outlook Staff, ERS, USDA, 
Washington, D.C., private communication, April 27, 1992. 

1 1 . USDA, op. cit. note 6; USDA, ERS, "China Situation and Out- 
look Series," Washington, D.C., July 1993. 

12. USDA, op. cit. note 6; grain-to-egg conversion ratio from Alan 
B. Durning and Holly B. Brough, Taking Stock: Animal Farming 
and the Environment, Worldwatch Paper 103 (Washington, 
D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, July 1991), citing USDA, Foreign 
Agricultural Service, World Livestock Situation, Washington, 
D.C., April 1991, and Linda Baily, agricultural economist, 
USDA, Washington, D.C., private communication, September 

13. Beef trade from USDA, op. cit. note 6; depletion of rangelands 
from Lester R. Brown and Hal Kane, Full House: Reassessing the 

Notes (Chapters 3 and 4) 147 

Earth's Population Carrying Capacity (New York: W.W. Norton 
& Company, 1994). 

14. FAO, op. cit. note 4. 

15. FAO, Yearbook of Fishery Statistics: Catches and Landings (Rome: 
1993); population from PRB, op. cit. note 2. 

16. FAO, "Marine Fisheries and the Law of the Sea: A Decade of 
Change," Fisheries Circular No. 853, Rome, 1993. 

17. FAO, "Aquaculture Production, 1985-91," Rome, 1992; 
grain-to-fish conversion ratio from Ross Garnaut and Guonan 
Ma, East Asian Analytical Unit, Department of Foreign Affairs 
and Trade, Grain in China (Canberra: Australian Government 
Publishing Service, 1992). 

18. Figure 3-2 from USDA, op. cit. note 7. 

19. "Americans Find China a Heady Brew," Financial Times, 
March 28, 1995. 

20. Grain-to-beer ratio from Jack McCabe, Brew Master, Chicago, 
111., private communication, June 10, 1994, and from Virginia 
Brewers Association, private communication, June 12, 1994; 
USDA, op. cit. note 7; FAO, "Time Series for State of Food 
and Agriculture" (electronic database), Rome, May 1994; 
"Americans Find China a Heady Brew," op. cit. note 19. 

21. FAO, Food Balance Sheet 1988 (Rome: 1989); USDA, "Oilseeds 
Situation and Outlook," Washington, D.C., July 1994; popula- 
tions from PRB, op. cit. note 2. 

22. "Production Shortfall May Force China to Increase Soy Oil Im- 
ports From U.S." Journal of Commerce> March 8, 1995; Figure 
3-3 from USDA, op. cit. note 7. 

23. FAO, op. cit. note 21. 

Chapter 4. The Shrinking Cropland Base 

1. "Chinese Reform Burial Customs," Mazingira, March 1984. 

2. U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 1994 Production Year- 
book (Rome: 1993). ^ 

3. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research 
Service (ERS), "Production, Supply, and Demand View" (elec- 
tronic database), Washington, D.C., November 1994; popula- 
tion from U.S. Bureau of the Census, as published in Francis 
Urban and Ray Nightingale, World Population by Country and 
Region, 1950-90 and Projections to 2050 (Washington, D.C.: 
USDA, ERS, 1993). 

4. Zou and Economic Information Daily from Tony Walker, "China 
Determined to Head Off Farmland Crisis," Financial Times, 
March 2, 1995. 

5. Figure 4-1 from USDA, op. cit. note 3, with 1950-59 data from 

148 Notes (Chapter 4) 

USDA, 'World Grain Database" (unpublished printout), 
Washington, D.C., April 1989. 

6. Population projections from Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 

7. David Malin Roodman and Nicholas Lenssen, A Building Revo- 
lution: How Ecology and Health Concerns Are Transforming Con- 
struction, WorldWatch Paper 124 (Washington, D.C.: World- 
watch Institute, March 1995). 

8. Joseph Kahn, "China's Next Great Leap: The Family Car," 
Wall Street Journal, June 24, 1994; Sun Shangwu, "Building 
Eats Up Farmland as More Mouths Need Food," China Daily, 
July 18, 1994. 

9. "Chinese Roads Paved With Gold," Financial Times, November 
23, 1994. 

10. Figure 4-2 from ibid. 

11. P.T. Bangsberg, "China Presses On With Expansion of High- 
way System," Journal of Commerce, January 18, 1995. 

12. Ibid.; Patrick E. Tyler, "Hong Kong Tycoon's Road to China," 
New York Times, December 31, 1993. 

13. Wang Rong, "Food Before Golf on Southern Land," China 
Daily, January 25, 1995. 

14. World Bank, China: Strategies for Reducing Poverty in the 1990's 
(Washington, D.C.: 1992). 

15. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, Statistical Year- 
book of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Tokyo: various years); 
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Statistical Year- 
book of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Seoul: various years); 
Taiwan data from John Dyck, USD A, Foreign Agricultural Ser- 
vice, Washington, D.C., private communication, March 16, 

1 6. Figure 4-3 from Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries 
(Tokyo), op. cit. note 15, from Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry 
and Fisheries (Seoul), op. cit. note 15, and from Dyck, op. cit. 
note 15. 

17. W. Hunter Colby et al., Agricultural Statistics of the People's Re- 
public of China, 1949-90 (Washington, D.C.: USDA, ERS, 
1992), with updates from Dyck, op. cit. note 15. 

18. Table 4-1 from USDA, ERS, "China Situation and Outlook 
Report," Washington, D.C., August 1994. 

19. Figure 4-4 from Worldwatch, with projections based on USDA, 
op. cit. note 3, and on Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 3, 
assuming current rate of cropland loss. 

20. Noel Grove, "Rice, the Essential Harvest," National Geographic, 
May 1994; USDA, op. cit. note 3; USDA, op. cit. note 5. 

Notes (Chapter 5) 149 

Chapter 5. Spreading Water Scarcity 

1. Population from U.S. Bureau of the Census, as published in 
Francis Urban and Ray Nightingale, World Population by Coun- 
try and Region, 1950-90 and Projections to 2050 (Washington, 
D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Re- 
search Service (ERS), 1993); James Nickum and John Dixon, 
"Environmental Problems and Economic Modernization, "Asia 
Pacific Report, Focus: China in the Reform Era (Honolulu, Ha- 
waii: East-West Center, 1989). 

2. Niu quoted in Patrick E. Tyler, "China Lacks Water to Meet Its 
Mighty Thirst," New York Times, November 7, 1993. 

3. Xu Zhifang, President, Chinese National Committee on Irriga- 
tion and Drainage, speech at the World Water Council-Interim 
Founding Committee, Montreal, Canada, March 31, 1995; 
U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Production 
Yearbook (Rome: various years). 

4. Patrick E. Tyler, "Huge Water Project Would Supply Beijing By 
860-Mile Aqueduct," New York Times, July 19, 1994. 

5. Figure 5-1 from USDA, ERS, "China Situation and Outlook 
Series," Washington, D.C., August 1994, and from FAO, op. 
cit. note 3; James E. Nickum, "Volatile Waters: Is China's Irri- 
gation in Decline?" Environment and Policy Institute, East- 
West Center, presented at the 81st Annual Meeting of the 
American Society of Agronomy, Las Vegas, Nev., October 19, 

6. USDA, op. cit. note 5; FAO, op. cit. note 3; population from 
Bureau of the Census, op. cit note 1. 

7. USDA, op. cit. note 5; FAO, op. cit. note 3; W. Hunter Colby, 
Frederick W. Crook, and Shwu-Eng H. Webb, Agricultural Sta- 
tistics of the People's Republic of China, 1949-90 (Washington, 
D.C.: USDA, ERS, 1992). 

8. Colby, Crook, and Webb, op. cit. note 7; Tyler, op. cit. note 4. 

9. Colby, Crook, and Webb, op. cit. note 7; USDA, op. cit. note 5. 

10. Vaclav Smil, China's Environmental Crisis: An Inquiry Into the 
Limits of National Development (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 

11. Ibid. 

12. Ibid. 

13. Tyler, op. cit. note 4. 

14. Ibid. 

15. Smil, op. cit. note 10; Xu, op. cit. note 3. 

16. Harald D. Frederiksen, Jeremy Berkoff, and William Barber, 

150 Notes (Chapters 5 and 6) 

"Water Resources Management in Asia, Volume 1," World 
Bank Technical Paper 212, Washington, D.C., 1993. 

17. Bureau of the Census, op. cit note 1. 

18. WorldBank, World Development Report 1 994 (New York: Oxford 
University Press, 1994); Nickum and Dixon, op. cit. note 1. 

19. Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 1; Nickum and Dixon, op. 
cit. note 1. 

20. Tyler, op. cit. note 4. 

21. Colby, Crook, and Webb, op. cit. note 7. 

22. Tyler, op. cit. note 4. 

23. Ibid. 

24. Ibid. 

25. Xu, op. cit. note 3. 

Chapter 6. Raising Cropland Productivity 

1. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USD A), Economic Research 
Service (ERS), "Production, Supply, and Demand View" (elec- 
tronic database), Washington, D.C., November 1994. 

2. Ibid. 

3. Ibid.; data for 1950-59 from USDA, ERS, "World Grain Data- 
base" (unpublished printout), Washington, D.C., April 1989; 
Susan Cotts Watkins and Jane Menken, "Famines in Historical 
Perspective," Population and Development Review, December 

4. USDA, op. cit. note 1; USDA, op. cit. note 3. 

5. U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Fertilizer Year- 
books (Rome: various years); USDA, op. cit. note 1. 

6. 1880 data from Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and 
Fisheries, Crop and Livestock Statistics, various years; Figure 6-1 
from USDA, op. cit. note 1, from USDA, op. cit. note 3, and 
from USDA, ERS, "World Agricultural Production," Washing- 
ton, D.C., February 1995; rice prices from USDA, ERS, 
"Pacific Rim Agriculture and Trade Report, Situation and Out- 
look Series," Washington, D.C., September 1992. 

7. USDA, op. cit. note 1. 

8. Keith Schneider, "A New Rice Could Raise Yields 20%," New 
York Times, October 24, 1994. 

9. Figure 6-2 from USDA, op. cit. note 1, from USDA, op. cit. 
note 3, and from USDA, "World Agricultural Production," op. 
cit. note 6. 

10. USDA, op. cit. note 1. 

1 1 . Ibid.; USDA, "World Agricultural Production," op. cit. note 6. 

12. Table 6-1 from USDA, op. cit. note 1, from USDA, op. cit. 

Notes (Chapters 6 and 7) 151 

note 3, and from USDA, "World Agricultural Production," op. 
cit. note 6. 

13. USDA, op. cit. note 1; USDA, "China Situation and Outlook 
Series," Washington, D.C., August 1994; FAO, op. cit. note 5. 

14. USDA, op. cit. note 1. 

15. Ibid.; USDA, op. cit. note 3; Schneider, op. cit. note 8. 

16. Donald N. Duvick, "Intensification of Known Technology and 
Prospects of Breakthroughs in Technology and Future Food 
Supply," Iowa State University, Johnstown, Iowa, February 

17. Figure 6-3 from FAO, op. cit. note 5, and from K.F. Isherwood 
and K.G. Soh, "The Agricultural Situation and Fertilizer De- 
mand," presented at 62nd Annual Conference, International 
Fertilizer Industry Association, Istanbul, May 9, 1994. 

18. FAO, op. cit. note 5; Isherwood and Soh, op. cit. note 17. 

19. FAO, op. cit. note 5; Isherwood and Soh, op. cit. note 17. 

20. Isherwood and Soh, op. cit. note 17; USDA, op. cit. note 1. 

2 1 . "Efforts Reduce Erosion Along the Yellow River," China Daily, 
January 4, 1995; Josef R. Parrington et al., "Asian Dust: Sea- 
sonal Transport to the Hawaiian Islands," Science, April 8, 

22. Lester R. Brown and Jodi L. Jacobson, The Future of Urbaniza- 
tion: Facing the Ecological and Economic Constraints, WorldWatch 
Paper 77 (Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, May 

23. Marcus W. Brauchli, "China's Environment Is Severely 
Stressed As Its Industry Surges," Wall Street Journal, July 25, 
1994; James J. MacKenzie and Mohammed T. El-Ashry, 77/ 
Winds: Airborne Pollution's Toll on Trees and Crops (Washington, 
D.C.: World Resources Institute, 1988). 

Chapter 7. The Growing Grain Deficit 

1. Nikos Alexandratos, "The Outlook for World Food and Agri- 
culture to the Year 2010," U.N. Food and Agriculture Organi- 
zation (FAO), Rome, January 1994; Donald O. Mitchell and 
Merlinda D. Ingco, International Economics Department, The 
World Food Outlook (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, Novem- 
ber 1993); Aditi Kapoor, "China's Food Shortage Will Hit 
World Economy: World Watch," Times of India, February 2, 

2. Per capita grainland calculated using grain area from U.S. De- 
partment of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service 
(ERS), "Production, Supply, and Demand View" (electronic 

152 Notes (Chapter 7) 

database), Washington, D.C., November 1994, with 1950-59 
figures from USDA, ERS, 'World Grain Database" (unpub- 
lished printout), Washington, D.C., April 1989, and population 
from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as published in Francis 
Urban and Ray Nightingale, World Population by Country and 
Region, 1950-90 and Projections to 2050 (Washington, D.C.: 
USDA, ERS, 1993). 

3. Figure 7-1 from USDA (electronic database), op. cit. note 2, 
and from USDA (unpublished printout), op. cit. note 2. 

4. USDA (electronic database), op. cit. note 2; USDA (unpub- 
lished printout), op. cit. note 2; USDA, ERS, "Grain: World 
Markets and Trade," Washington, D.C., March 1995. 

5. Figure 7-2 from USDA (electronic database), op. cit. note 2, 
from USDA (unpublished printout), op. cit. note 2, and from 
USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

6. USDA (electronic database), op. cit. note 2; USDA (unpub- 
lished printout), op. cit. note 2; USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

7. USDA (electronic database), op. cit. note 2; USDA (unpub- 
lished printout), op. cit. note 2; USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

8. Figure 7-3 from USDA (electronic database), op. cit. note 2, 
from USDA (unpublished printout), op. cit. note 2, and from 
USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

9. Meat consumption from USDA (electronic database), op. cit. 
note 2; USDA, "Livestock and Poultry: World Markets and 
Trade," Washington, D.C., October 1994. 

10. USDA (electronic database), op. cit. note 2; USDA, op. cit. 
note 4. 

1 1 . Seafood consumption from FAO, Fishery Statistics: Catches and 
Landings (Rome: 1993). 

12. Ibid.; grain-fish conversion from Ross Garnaut and Guonan 
Ma, East Asian Analytical Unit, Department of Foreign Affairs 
and Trade, Grain in China (Canberra: Australian Government 
Publishing Service, 1992); USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

13. Xu Zhifang, President, Chinese National Committee on Irriga- 
tion and Drainage, speech at the World Water Council-Interim 
Founding Committee, Montreal, Canada, March 31, 1995. 

14. Keith Schneider, "A New Rice Could Raise Yields 20%," New 
York Times, October 24, 1994; "WASDE Cotton US & World," 
AgNews Fax, USDA, Washington, D.C., May 10, 1995. 

15. USDA (electronic database), op. cit. note 2; USDA, op. cit. 
note 4. 

16. Per capita consumption calculated from USDA (electronic 
database), op. cit. note 2, and from population from Bureau of 
the Census, op. cit. note 2. 

Notes (Chapters 7 and 8) 153 

17. Per capita consumption calculated from USD A (electronic 
database), op. cit. note 2, and from population from Bureau of 
the Census, op. cit. note 2. 

18. Figure 7-4 is from Worldwatch, based on USD A (electronic 
database), op. cit. note 2, and on Bureau of the Census, op. cit. 
note 2. 

19. Figure 7-5 is from Worldwatch, based on USD A (electronic 
database), op. cit. note 2, and on Bureau of the Census, op. cit. 
note 2. 

20. Populations from Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 2; grain 
trade from USD A (electronic database), op. cit. note 2. 

21. Zhou quoted in Patrick E. Tyler, "The Dynamic New China 
Still Races Against Time," New York Times, January 2, 1994. 

22. Population Reference Bureau, World Population Data Sheet 1994 
(Washington, D.C.: 1994). 

23. "China to Buy More Wheat, Corn From US, Traders Say," 
Journal of Commerce, January 19, 1995; International Monetary 
Fund, World Economic Outlook, October 1994 (Washington, 
D.C.: 1994). 

24. Gao Anming, "Experts Note Reasons for Hikes in Grain 
Prices," China Daily, January 6, 1995. 

25. "China to Buy More Wheat," op. cit. note 23; "China Expects 
to Control Inflation By Imposing a Ban on Corn Exports," Jour- 
nal of Commerce, December 5, 1994. 

26. USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

27. Peter Hannam, "China's Grain Shortages Echo Experts Warn- 
ings," Journal of Com merce, April 25, 1995. 

Chapter 8. Competition for Grain 

1. Joseph Kahn, "Creating a Wonder for China: Family Car," 
Wall Street Journal, November 21, 1994. 

2. International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Financial 
Statistics Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: 1994). 

3. Table 8-1 from International Trade Administration, "Total Im- 
ports and Exports for Individual Countries, 1980-93" (elec- 
tronic database), National Trade Data Bank (NATB), Wash- 
ington, D.C., 1994, with updates from U.S. Bureau of the 
Census, "U.S. Exports to China," and "U.S. Imports from 
China," NATB, op. cit. this note; price of corn from IMF, op. 
cit. note 2. 

4. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research 
Service (ERS), "Production, Supply, and Demand View" (elec- 
tronic database), Washington, D.C., November 1994. 

154 Notes (Chapter 8) 

5. Table 8-2 from ibid., with historical data from USD A, ERS, 
"World Grain Database" (unpublished printout), Washington, 
D.C., April 1989, and from U.N. Food and Agriculture Organi- 
zation (FAO), Trade Yearbook (Rome: various years). 

6. USDA. op. cit. note 4; USDA, op. cit. note 5; FAO, op. cit. note 

7. USDA. op. cit. note 4; USDA, op. cit. note 5; FAO, op. cit. note 

8. USDA, op. cit. note 4; USDA, op. cit. note 5; USDA, "Grain: 
World Markets and Trade," Washington, D.C., March 1995. 

9. USDA, ERS, "Oilseeds Situation and Oudook," Washington, 
D.C., January 1995. 

10. USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

11. Ibid. 

12. USDA, ERS, "Grain Situation and Outlook Report," Washing- 
ton, D.C., December 1994. 

13. Population growth rates from U.S. Bureau of the Census, as 
published in Francis Urban and Ray Nightingale, World Popula- 
tion by Country and Region, 1950-90 and Projections to 2050 
(Washington, D.C.: USDA, ERS, 1993). 

14. USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

15. USDA, op. cit. note 12; USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

16. USDA, op. cit. note 12; USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

17. Gordon Sloggett and Clifford Dickason, Ground-Water Mining 
in the United States (Washington, D.C.: USDA, ERS, 1986). 

18. Figure 8-1 from USDA, ERS, Agricultural Statistics (Washing- 
ton, D.C.: various years). 

19. Population projections from Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 

20. Grain consumption from USDA, op. cit. note 4; population 
from Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 13. 

21. USDA, "World Agriculture Production," Washington, D.C., 
various issues; stocks from USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

22. Grain stocks from USDA, op. cit. note 4; James Hansen, "The 
Greenhouse Effect: Impacts on Current Global Temperature 
and Regional Heat Waves," statement before the Committee on 
Energy and Natural Resources, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., 
June 23, 1988, and as quoted in Michael Weisskopf, " 'Green- 
house Effect' Fueling Policy Makers," Washington Post, August 
15, 1988. 

23. Figure 8-2 from USDA, op. cit. note 4, from USDA, op. cit. 
note 5, and from FAO, op. cit. note 5. 

24. USDA, op. cit. note 4. 

25. Ibid. 

Notes (Chapters 8 and 9) 155 

26. Ibid. 

27. Suzanne McGee, "Sugar Soars in Rumors That China Might 
Buy," Wall Street Journal, November 23, 1994. 

28. USDA, op. cit. note 9; USDA, ERS, "Agricultural Outlook," 
Washington, D.C., May 1995. 

29. Table 8-3 contains Worldwatch estimates based on USDA, op. 
cit. note 4, and on population projections from Bureau of the 
Census, op. cit. note 13. 

30. Lester R. Brown and Hal Kane, Full House: Reassessing the 
Earth's Population Carrying Capacity (New York: W.W. Norton 
& Company, 1994). 

31. Ibid.; wheat prices from IMF, op. cit. note 2. 

32. Figure 8-3 from World Bank, Commodity Trade and Price Trends 
1989-91 Edition (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University 
Press, 1993). 

Chapter 9. Entering a New Era 

1. Population increase from U.S. Bureau of the Census, as pub- 
lished in Francis Urban and Ray Nightingale, World Population 
by Country and Region, 1950-90 and Projections to 2050 (Wash- 
ington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Eco- 
nomic Research Service (ERS), 1993); economic expansion 
from International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Mone- 
tary Statistics Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: 1994). 

2. Aditi Kapoor, "China's Food Shortage Will Hit World Econ- 
omy: World Watch," Times of Bombay, February 2, 1995; grain 
yields from USDA, ERS, "Production, Supply, and Demand 
View" (electronic database), Washington, D.C., November 

3. Population and projections from Bureau of the Census, op. cit. 
note 1; John R. Bermingham, "China's Population Puzzle," 
Colorado Population Coalition, Denver, Colo., Fall 1994. 

4. Xu Zhifang, President, Chinese National Committee on Irriga- 
tion and Drainage, speech for the World Water Council-Interim 
Founding Committee, Montreal, Canada, March 31, 1995. 

5. Patrick E. Tyler, "Nature and Economic Boom Devouring 
China's Farmland," New York Times, March 27, 1994. 

6. Nikos Alexandratos, "The Outlook for World Food and Agri- 
culture to the Year 2010," U.N. Food and Agriculture Organi- 
zation (FAO), Rome, January 1994; Donald O. Mitchell and 
Merlinda D. Ingco, International Economics Department, The 
World Food Outlook (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, Novem- 
ber 1993). 

156 Notes (Chapters 9 and 10) 

7. Table 9-1 is from FAO, Fishery Statistics: Annual Catches and 
Landings (Rome: various years), from USDA, op. cit. note 2, 
and from USDA, "World Grain Database" (unpublished print- 
out), Washington, D.C., April 1989. 

8. USDA, op. cit. note 2; USDA, op. cit. note 7. 

9. USDA, op. cit. note 2. 

10. Lester R. Brown, Nicholas Lenssen, and Hal Kane, Vital Signs 
1995 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995), as adapted 
from USDA, op. cit. note 2, and from USDA, "Grain: World 
Markets and Trade," Washington, D.C., January 1995. 

11. Table 9-2 is from Worldwatch, based on FAO, op. cit. note 6, 
on USDA, op. cit. note 2, on Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 
1, and on U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), Human De- 
velopment Report 1994 (New York: Oxford University Press, 
1994); rice harvest from USDA, op. cit. note 2. 

12. Seafood prices from FAO, Fishery Statistics: Trade and Commerce 
(Rome: various years), with updates from Adele Crispoldi, fish- 
ery statistician, Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Service, 
Fisheries Department, FAO, Rome, unpublished printout, Sep- 
tember 12, 1994. 

13. Table 9-3 is Worldwatch estimates, based on World Bank, un- 
published printout, February 1992, on gross world product data 
for 1950 and 1955 from Herbert R. Block, The Planetary Product 
for 1980: A Creative Pause? (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Depart- 
ment of State, 1981), on U.S. Bureau of the Census, Center for 
International Research, Suidand, Md., private communication, 
March 26, 1993, and on IMF, World Economic Outlook: Interim 
Assessment (Washington, D.C.: 1993). 

14. IMF, op. cit. note 1. 

15. UNDP, op. cit. note 1 1 . 

Chapter 10. Priorities in an Era of Scarcity 

1. U.S. Bureau of the Census, as published in Francis Urban and 
Ray Nightingale, World Population by Country and Region, 
1950-90 and Projections to 2050 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. De- 
partment of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service 
(ERS), 1993); USDA, ERS, "Production, Supply, and De- 
mand View" (electronic database), Washington, D.C., Novem- 
ber 1994; USDA, "World Grain Database" (unpublished print- 
out), Washington, D.C., April 1989. 

2. Figure 10-1 from Bureau of the Census, op. cit. note 1, from 
USDA (electronic database), op. cit. note 1, and from USDA 
(unpublished printout), op. cit. note 1. 

Notes (Chapter 10) 157 

3. USDA (electronic database), op. cit. note 1. 

4. U.N. General Assembly, "Programme of Action of the United 
Nations International Conference on Population and Develop- 
ment" (draft), New York, September 19, 1994. 

5. Sandra Postel, Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity (New York: 
W.W. Norton & Company, 1992). 

6. USDA, ERS, "Grain: World Markets and Trade," Washington, 
D.C., March 1995. 

7. USDA (electronic database), op. cit note 1; Bureau of the Cen- 
sus, op. cit. note 1. 

8. USDA (electronic database), op. cit note 1; Bureau of the Cen- 
sus, op. cit. note 1. 

9. USDA (electronic database), op. cit. note 1. 

10. Ibid. 

1 1 . Consumption from ibid. 


agriculture, see specific crop 
air pollution, 84-85, 131 
alcoholic beverages, 46, 

aquifer depletion, 70-71, 84, 

Argentina, 108 
Australia, 106-07 
highway construction, 26, 

production, 58 

beef, 44-48, 93 
beer consumption, 46, 50-5 1 
Bermingham, John, 39-40 
biotechnology, 81, 140 

Canada, 107 

canolaoil, 107 

China's Environmental Crisis, 69 

Chinese Academy of Sciences, 

climate, 112, 137-38 
Colorado Population Coalition, 

Conservation Reserve Program, 

109, 138 
construction, see 

industrialization; housing 
corn, 79, 100 
cotton, 113-14, 139 
cropland loss, 54-65 
to burial grounds, 54 
to golf courses, 60 



cropland loss (cont'd) 
to highway construction, 26, 

to industrialization, 24-27, 

55-57, 99 
per capita estimates, 36-37, 

residential conversion, 37, 

cropland productivity, 75-85 
air pollution effect, 84-85, 

aquifer depletion, 70-71, 84, 

biotechnology, 81 
erosion, 83-84, 136 
fertilizer use, 76, 80, 82-83 
irrigation, 80-81,84 
land reclamation, 138-39 
multiple cropping index, 

see also grain production 

dairy products, 45, 49 

DDT, 131 

developing countries 
food scarcity, 132-34 
grain imports, 115-17 
population growth, 114 

diet, see food; grain 

East-West Center, Hawaii, 67 
economic growth 

food indicators, 127-28 

global, 129-30 

grain prices, 31 

implications, 29-30, 44, 60, 

inflation, 3 1 

labor force, 57 

resource distribution reform, 
133, 136 

trade balance, 100, 103-06, 

unemployment, 31 

see also income levels 
emigration, 40-41 

labor force, 31, 57 

nonfarm workers, 60 

see also income levels 
erosion, 83-84, 136 
ethanol, 138 

emigration, 40-41 

food/population balance, 135 

grain consumption, 37 

grain production, 106, 108 

population growth, 36-37, 55 
exports, 103-06 

famine, in 1959-61, 38-39 
farmland, see cropland loss; 
cropland productivity 
female infanticide, 41 
fertilizer use, 76, 80, 82-83 
fisheries, 49-50, 124-25, 132 
dependence reduction, 

economic indicator, 127-28 
European food/population 

balance, 135 
Food and Agriculture 

Organization, 50, 89, 125 
grain reserve, 99, 101, 127, 

prices, 31, 100, 127-28, 



prosperity and diet, 44-53 
see also grain consumption 
Food and Agriculture 

Organization (U.N.) 3 50, 

89, 125 
political leadership, 133-34, 

priorities, 131-41 
projections, 95-99, 121-30 
resource distribution, 133, 


global warming, 1 12, 137-38 
grain consumption 
animal feed, 46-50, 94, 

annual rate, 28-29 
deficits, 31, 89-101 
grain-based beverages, 46, 

prosperity effect, 30, 44-53 
world demand, 23-24 
see also food 
grain imports 
balance of trade, 100, 

in developing countries, 

exporting countries, 32, 

102-12, 136 
global repercussions, 24, 32, 

grain production 
agricultural success, 27-28 
China/Japan compared, 

deficits, 25, 27, 31, 89-101 
foreign production, 25, 27, 


future projections, 95-99, 

reserves, 99, 101, 127, 

see also cropland productivity 
Great Leap Forward, 37-39, 

Guangdong Land Bureau, 60 

Haub, Carl, 42 

highway construction, 26, 

housing, 37, 57-58 

income levels 
living space per capita, 58 
product demand, 30, 62 
prosperity and diet, 44-53 
wages, 29 
see also employment 

India, 27-28 

alternative policies, 123 
cropland loss, 24-27, 55-57, 

global consequences, 24-26, 

water use, 71-72, 94 

International Rice Research 
Institute, 78, 95 

crop yields, 80-81,84 
nonfarm water use, 27, 94 
water scarcity, 27, 67-71 


cropland loss, 25-26, 55-56, 

economic growth, 3, 90 
fisheries, 49-50 



Japan (cont'd) 

grain consumption, 30, 

grain production, 25, 76-78, 

industrialization, 25, 90-92 
living space per capita, 58 
multiple cropping index, 

Jiang Zemin, 43 

labor, see employment; income 

land, see cropland loss; cropland 

consumption tax, 139-40 
grain consumption, 46-50, 

94, 139 
production, 44-48, 93 

Mauna Loa observatory, 

Hawaii, 84 
meat consumption, 44-48, 93 
Ministry for Machinery 

Building, 58 
Ministry of Agriculture, 58 
multiple cropping index, 61-62, 


Niu Mao Sheng, 66 

Philippines, International Rice 
Research Institute, 78, 95 
population growth, 35-43 
Asia/Europe compared, 

36-37, 55, 135 
birth rate, 38-39, 42 
death rate, 38-39 
in developing countries, 114 

emigration, 40 
family size, 40-42, 123 
food/population balance, 135 
projections, 29, 136 
World Population Plan of 
Action, 136 

Population Reference Bureau, 

pork, 46-48 

poultry, 45, 48 


International Rice Research 
Institute, 78, 95 

production, 76-78 
Russia, 108 

Smil, Vaclav, 69 
South Korea 

cropland loss, 25, 55-56 

grain production, 25 

industrialization, 25 

multiple cropping index, 
South-North Water Diversion 

Project, 73 
soybean oil, 52, 114 
State Land Administration, 55 
sugar, 52-53, 113-14 


cropland loss, 25, 55-56 

grain production, 25 

industrialization, 25 

multiple cropping index, 
taxes, on livestock 

consumption, 139-40 
Teitelbaum, Michael, 40 
Thailand, 109 



Third World, see developing 

tobacco, as crop replacement, 

trade, see economic growth 

alternative policies, 123 
automobile fleet buildup, 58 
cropland loss, 26, 58-60 
highway construction, 26, 
Tyler, Patrick, 67 

United States 
air pollution crop losses, 85 
China trade balance, 103 
Conservation Reserve 

Program, 109, 138 
cotton production, 114 
Department of Agriculture, 

economic growth, 30, 32 
fertilizer use, 82-83 
grain consumption, 45-46 
grain production, 27, 78-79, 

irrigation, 110 
meat consumption, 45-46 

National Oceanic and 


Administration, 84 
standard of living, 23, 1 10-1 1 

vegetable oil, 51-52, 107, 112 
vegetables, 62-63 

wages, see income levels 
water use 
aquifer depletion, 70-71, 84, 

efficiency, 124-25 
industrial, 71-72, 94 
irrigation, 27, 67-71, 80-81, 

residential, 72 
scarcity, 66-74 
South-North Water Diversion 

Project, 73 
surface water distribution, 72 
wheat, 78-79 
World Bank, 89, 125 
World Population Plan of 
Action, 136 

Zhou Guangzhao, 98 
Zou Yuchuan, 55 


Lester R. Brown is President of the Worldwatch Insti- 
tute, a private, nonprofit environmental research organi- 
zation in Washington, D.C. He is the recipient of a 
MacArthur Foundation "genius award," the United 
Nations' 1989 environment prize, and the Asahi Glass 
Foundation's Blue Planet Prize, and he holds a string of 
honorary degrees from universities around the world. 
The Library of Congress has requested Mr. Brown's 
personal papers and manuscripts, recognizing his role in 
shaping the global environmental movement. Before 
founding Worldwatch, he was Administrator of the U.S. 
Department of Agriculture's International Agricultural 
Development Service and Advisor to the Secretary. He 
holds degrees from Rutgers University, the University of 
Maryland, and Harvard University. Mr. Brown started 
his career as a farmer, growing tomatoes in southern 
New Jersey.